Pubdate: Fri, 22 Sep 2017
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2017 Detroit Free Press
Author: Giacomo Bologna


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Two plainclothes detectives were driving a white
unmarked pickup truck through a heavily forested road in Polk County
on an overcast day in March 2012.

A woman had called the sheriff's office in December. Her identity had
been stolen, she said, and new credit cards were being sent to an
address in Polk County.

The detectives couldn't find the home in the rural area 45 miles north
of Springfield, so instead they stopped at the next closest address --
the home of Charles Frederick White.

The investigation into the identity theft was dropped. The
investigation of one of the largest marijuana-growing operations in
Polk County history had begun.

The detectives drove up the long driveway to White's house and parked
behind it.

They took notice of the mowed grass, the well-manicured flowerbed, the
screened-in porch -- and a distinctly skunk-like smell.

One of the detectives said he smelled it more than a hundred times
before -- unharvested marijuana plants.

A 71-year-old man with a raccoon-hunting headlamp walked up to

The detectives spoke to White, the property owner, for a few minutes,
then left. They noticed a security camera on a fence post on their way

A search warrant would be obtained, and investigators would eventually
say White was growing more than 1,700 marijuana plants.

It appears no details have been reported on the case since a 2012 news
release, when the Polk County sheriff announced the biggest indoor
marijuana bust in his more than 20 years in law enforcement.

On Wednesday, White, now 77 with failing eyesight, walked into the
federal courtroom with a cane in his hand and chains around his feet.

Judge Douglas Harpool struggled with his decision to sentence White to
10 years in prison. He said he researched any way he could give White
less than the 10-year-minimum sentence but failed to find one.

"This is not a sentence I feel particularly good about," Harpool

White's attorneys have long argued that the case should have never
reached a sentencing, saying White has been unfairly targeted by
local, state and federal authorities.

Authorities already had their eye on White long before March 2012, his
attorneys say, when overzealous detectives illegally stepped on his
property -- and trampled his constitutional rights.

According to a motion filed by White's attorneys, this case didn't
begin with a woman's identity being stolen -- it began in a Kansas
City parking lot in 2010.

Court records show that a Missouri State Highway Patrol sergeant
observed White and another man leaving a hydroponics store and filling
a pickup truck with plant-growing equipment.

According to court filings, White was the focus of a brief

Details of that investigation were never passed onto the Polk County
Sheriff's Office, the federal prosecutor said.

The discovery of more than 1,700 marijuana plants on White's property,
authorities said, was just luck.

The detectives testified that they had never met or heard of White
before coming onto his property in March 2012.

The detectives also said they didn't notice a gate with a "No
Trespassing" sign when they drove down White's driveway.

That's not true, White said in court filings. The gate was closed, he
said, and they had no right to open it and enter his property.

Two neighbors testified in court, saying they had lived next to White
for years, and he never had his gate open. One said he saw officers
approach the gate that day, get out of their car, undo the chain and
open the gate.

Authorities twice went onto White's property before obtaining a search
warrant, court records show.

White's attorneys filed a motion to suppress evidence in the case, but
a federal judge ruled against White.

In another attempt to have the case dismissed, in 2015, White's new
attorney Jason Coatney said federal law was being unfairly applied to
White. In a motion, Coatney said the federal government has a
"schizophrenic" approach to marijuana laws.

Prosecuting White for something that would be legal in Colorado is a
violation of White's 14th Amendment rights, Coatney argued.

If the federal government is letting it happen in Colorado and other
states, Coatney said, they should let it happen in Missouri.

Coatney also pointed to 2013 guidelines from the Department of Justice
that told federal prosecutors to prioritize marijuana cases that
involve organized crime or distribute to children -- neither of which
apply to White.

A federal judge ruled against White, and the case again moved toward

In February, White pleaded guilty to manufacturing more than 1,000
marijuana plants.

Since early 2015, White has been housed at the Greene County Jail.

A pre-sentencing report calculated that White should serve at least 24
years in prison. That was partly due to White's criminal past. He was
convicted in 1990 of manufacturing more than 600 marijuana plants and
in 2004 of manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants.

Under a plea deal, the federal prosecutor suggested the minimum
sentence under U.S. law: 10 years.

Coatney suggested home confinement, but Harpool, the judge, said that
couldn't apply.

Harpool eventually sentenced White to 10 years in prison but said he
would suggest that the Bureau of Prisons consider a "compassionate
release" for White.

Four people -- family and friends of White -- came to the sentencing
hearing. They were upset at the sentence and upset the case was never
thrown out.

"He's a good man. He's always been happy and cheerful," White's
stepdaughter, Valerie Patterson, said. "He's never had a history of

Robert Murphy, a friend, said officers entered White's property

"He's a farmer. He's always been a farmer," Murphy said. "When he was
busted, he was busted illegally."
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