Pubdate: Sat, 22 Sep 2007
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (AK)
Copyright: 2007 Fairbanks Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Amanda Bohman
Cited: The ruling
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


A Fairbanks man whose multimillion-dollar marijuana growing operation
was disbanded in the early 1990s is poised to be reimbursed for
hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of property seized by the
federal government.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that John
Collette did not receive proper notice for items confiscated,
including two aircraft, a dump truck, snowmachines, a computer and
more than $40,000 from bank accounts, according to court documents.

A lower court will determine the items' worth, plus interest, unless
the federal government settles with Collette or exercises an appeal.

"Beating up on the government at every opportunity has been my deal
since I was 20 years old," said Collette, who is now 60.

Fifteen years ago, Collette and his family were asleep early one
morning when authorities, led by the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration, raided their home and business, Happy Creek Greenhouse.

Collette and 14 others were charged with crimes associated with a
marijuana syndicate that reportedly reached the state of Washington.

Collette fled the country but later returned and pleaded guilty to
more than a dozen charges having to do with manufacturing and
distributing marijuana.

Collette served eight and a half years of an 11-year sentence and was
released from prison in early 2003. Collette studied law while
incarcerated, he said.

Since his release, Collette has spent much of his time working on his
lawsuit against the government.

"I represented myself from beginning to end," Collette said. "My bill
would be half a million dollars, at least, if I were a lawyer."

The case came before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals after a lower court dismissed Collette's claim.

The 9th Circuit ruling, issued by memorandum on Sept. 6, was not
completely in Collette's favor.

The judges decided that proper notice was given before the DEA took
ownership of a 1984 Audi Quattro, a 1984 Volkswagen Quantum, a 1982
Kubota tractor and marijuana growing equipment.

The DEA confiscates property from people accused of selling drugs if
the property is deemed to have been bought with drug proceeds. By law,
owners must be notified of what was seized and how to contest the seizures.

The DEA allegedly mailed Collette three or four notices regarding each
seized item.

In one example, a 1988 Glasair III aircraft, the DEA sent three
notices of seizure to Collette at three different addresses. One was
returned to the DEA for insufficient address, another was returned
because no mail box was available and the third was returned for an
unknown reason.

Some notices were sent to Collette at the Cook Inlet Pre-Trial
Facility in Anchorage and signed for by jail workers.

The federal government has maintained that Collette didn't know about
the seizure notices because he didn't want to know.

Collette said that if the government repays him, most of the money
would go toward debts.

If the case reaches the level of the U.S. Supreme Court - a long shot,
Collette admits - that wouldn't bother him either.

"It would give me a national forum to go from talk show to talk show,"
Collette said. "I'm an old announcer with KUAC, so I am familiar with
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