By Terrie Best – San Diego Americans for Safe Access
The James Slatic family sat in San Diego Civil court Monday, November 15th, along with an impressive group of supporters, to listen to testimony on just why The San Diego District Attorney confiscated each of the family of four’s checking and savings accounts and has refused to give the funds back in the absence of criminal behavior. It was tough to understand government seizing money from two young girls and their parents and as the testimony unfolded it became clear no financial investigation was conducted either. Still, anti-cannabis Judge Jay Bloom ruled against the family and the case will now be moving up to a higher court.
Husband and step-father, James Slatic was partnered with two others in a cannabis related organization. The facility, now closed, was located in Kearny Mesa, a business/industrial area in the city of San Diego. Med-West, LLC employed 35 patients and had collective members who provided hash oil the organization would refine and use in vape pens and other cannabis-infused products. The products were sold to other mutual benefit corporations. A scenario vetted by Med-West’s attorneys and legal in the state of California.
The Kearny Mesa facility had been inspected by the San Diego city attorney’s office and had a business license. The organization was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal taxes every year. Yet, in January, 2016, 20 members of Team 9 of the cross-deputized Narcotic Task Force rolled in and forced Med-West’s employees to the ground at gun point. Security cameras captured the armed men ripping open a safe and high-fiving each other as they confiscated Med-West’s LLC’s operating money and inventory, causing 35 employees to lose their jobs in the name of public safety. No criminal charges have been filed.
But it is not Med-West’s operating money at issue in this case. San Diego Police Detective Mark Carlson, with the Narcotic Task Force’s (NTF) Asset Removal Team participated in the January raid. The NTF is a dual-deputized agency that raids mostly cannabis businesses and conducts asset seizures even in the absence of criminal charges. Most of the money ends up back in the police and prosecutors’ hands through federal grant sharing programs.
Carlson removed employee records from the Kearny Mesa facility and then, with virtually no investigation, signed affidavits to freeze and seize the personal bank accounts of the family members of some of the Med-West employees. The Slatic family was one.
Carlson is known for shady tactics. In 2010, he and Team 9 raided The Helping Hand cannabis collective on 5th Avenue in San Diego. Team 9 covered their DEA insignia, disguised themselves with Helping Hand T-shirts and operated the collective without detection. Then, SDASA Raid Response put a stop to it and Team 9 loaded up the collective’s assets and left.
Now, with Carlson’s help, San Diego District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis has absorbed the Slatic family savings and kids’ college funds into her massive budget. She is fighting before citizens and media to keep the money and has been assisted by Judge Bloom when he ruled against the Slatics.
Curiously, Bonnie Dumanis’s head of asset forfeiture, Michael Running, was in court all Monday and part of Tuesday to observe. Many wonder what his yearly salary and if his presence influenced Bloom’s decision. Also, how much money are taxpayers paying for the government to not only take citizens’ assets but to send executives from the DA’s office to do court support on the issue.
On Monday, we heard testimony from James wife, Annette that she earns her own salary which was clearly reflected in her bank deposits. Annette has two girls who also work on their own. Though salaries independent of Med-West were reflected in all bank statements seized, they were roundly ignored by asset remover, Detective Mark Carlson and Bloom failed to take notice as well. It is not the first time law enforcement and DA have ignored exculpatory evidence and judges have signed off. The practice is routine but is now pointed at an innocent family with two kids in school.
In cases like these, the money seized is on trial. Before Bloom was whether the Slatic’s savings is tied to illegal behavior. Coming to town to fight that fight for James and his family is The Institute for Justice out of Arlington Virginia. The case is expected to be a long one. Judge Bloom’s ruling that the DA could keep the assets will be appealed to a higher court. The cannabis community is encouraged to have this civil rights law group here and paying attention to the fact that Dumanis is using the medical cannabis community as a bank and the courts are assisting her.
After Deputy District attorney Jorge DelPortillo tried to justify the DA’s asset seizure through Carlson’s court testimony, it became apparent no police work had been done to tie the Slatic money to Med-West at all. Still the DA carried on as if entitled. DelPortillo has a history of outlandish attempts to persecute medical cannabis patients in court. Through prosecutorial contortions, he once attempted to retry an already acquitted man and had to be shut down by the judge.
IJ Attorney, Wesley Hottot called chemist Andrew Pham to testify that even Med-West, LLC was not tied to any so-called criminal activity. Not only was the DA seizing money from families by manufacturing ties to crime, but through these proceeds, Med-West, LLC is proving to be lawful as well. All of this was lost on Bloom who once said in another cannabis case that cannabis patients are not trustworthy and DEA agents don’t lie.
Scientist Andrew Pham has been helping cannabis patients in criminal court since the 10 minute not guilty verdict in the John Mazula case earlier this year. The law as it stands now is murky on cannabis concentrates but one point seems to be clear, butane is a volatile substance and using it to extract will be litigated.
Andrew viewed the raid pictures from Med-West, LLC. He saw no evidence of a volatile extraction process. He testified that the roto-evaporator the police were excited about could not be used to extract. He pointed out the obvious “without cannabis present you can not extract.” There was no plant material found at Med-West. Andrew said evidence indicates Med-West was engaged in a refining process, using ethanol to separate plant wax out of hash oil.
As the IJ attorneys pointed out, none of this mattered in the case of the Slatic family money because the DA had not even properly traced a path from their finances to Med-West’s. Further, because police and prosecutors ignored Med-West’s status as a legal marijuana business, they did not have probable cause to seize the family money. Judge Bloom, using some alternative form of logic, reached a different conclusion.
All four of the family members testified. It was heartbreaking to watch them have to battle a money-grubbing giant in court to get their own savings back. None of us could know the betrayal in store for them.
When questioned about logistics, the youngest daughter said that the government took her college money and salary from the toy store where she worked but she didn’t know why.
Annette Slatic testified she was a cosigner on the girls’ accounts because she opened them years ago as children’s savings accounts. She told the judge she had no role at all in Med-West, further she was a wage earner elsewhere.
Judge Bloom heard elements of the crimes alleged by DelPortillo and he even said no jury will convict if the case is brought to criminal trial. He also referenced Senate Bill 443, recently signed by California Governor Jerry Brown. The law goes into effect January 1, 2017 and requires a conviction in asset forfeiture cases. Bloom punted his decision out of fear. In his ruling in favor of the powerful DA, Judge Bloom took the path that would hurt him the least and made an unconstitutional ruling because he was not brave enough to stand up to Bonnie Dumanis.
Longtime activist attorney Mara Felsen said “Anyone who thinks that this case reflects negatively on the Slatics or Med-West, rather than being yet another example of law enforcement exploiting legal ambiguities, is simply wrong.”
But, our San Diego DA fights on to keep the personal savings accounts of citizens. It is morally wrong and will soon be unlawful.
In a press release, co-counsel Allison Daniel from IJ said “Civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to property rights in the nation.” “Civil forfeiture takes the American principle of innocent until proven guilty and flips it on its head, treating property owners worse than criminals by making them prove their innocence.”
The family has set up a donation webpage here.