April 10, 2014OSSIPEE — Three of the four people arrested last September in connection with a marijuana growing operation in Effingham have had their day in court, with the latest being on April 8 in Carroll County Superior Court.
David Abbott, 52, pled guilty to a Class A misdemeanor, control of premises, admitting that he "had control" of premises where he knew illegal drugs were being kept. When originally arrested back in September, Abbott had been charged with growing and having possession of marijuana, the former being a felony. Rather than take a chance the prosecution might be able to prove him guilty of a felony, Abbott chose to plead guilty to knowing there was marijuana on his property.
After a yearlong investigation that included a confidential informant working with police and giving up names, but not Abbott's, and police putting cameras in the woods surrounding the Town House Road property, police raided Abbott's property Sept. 5, 2013.
On behalf of the State, Atty. Michael Brisson of Carroll County Attorney's Office recommended the maximum sentence of one year in jail, with six months suspended, and a $2,000 fine. Brisson told Judge David Garfunkel that on Sept. 5, Carroll County Sherriff's deputies accompanied by officers from local police agencies raided the property at 594 Town House Road. The target, he said, was someone other than Abbott. While there, police "caught a scent of marijuana in the air" and located several marijuana plants at the rear of the house. Abbott, he said, was cooperative and honest, telling police the plants belonged to him. Brisson presented photographs to the judge of evidence seized including the plants, a gallon of fertilizer, as well as evidence of a plant-drying area in the attic and shopping bags full of marijuana stalks.
During the hearing Monday, both sides presented some facts including that the eight plants could have resulted in the harvest of, according to Brisson, eight pounds of marijuana. Based on the limited information presented, it seemed a stretch that the State would have been able to actually link Abbott to any selling activities.
Abbott's attorney Alfred Catalfo, III, of Catalfo Law in Dover, told Judge Garfunkel that there was no evidence that Abbott profited from selling marijuana and that the confidential informant never even mentioned Abbott in relation to sales. He added that there exists no independent evidence to prove Abbott is guilty of anything other than control of premises.
Judge Garfunkel agreed. "There is nothing to suggest that Abbott is guilty of anything more than he has admitted to," said Garfunkel. When imposing the sentence, Garfunkel took into consideration that Abbott is a lifelong Carroll County resident, had a minimal criminal record from 30 years ago, and the negative impact sitting in jail would have on Abbott's ability to continue to eke out a living as a logger. Garfunkel took into account the reported income on Abbott's past income tax returns, the fact he owns a 1997 pickup truck, and that he rents the house where his family lives as he tried to find any proof that Abbott had profited in some way from the marijuana allegedly being grown on his property. But he found no link.
Catalfo asked for leniency to include no extra jail time and a minimal fine. Catalfo said he has visited Abbott's home. "These people are not living high on the hog; it is not an easy life where they live. David has been entirely cooperative, no nonsense, no messing around. He is not a drug dealer and never has been," said Catalfo.
Abbott had five people in the audience who were willing to speak to his defense including his two adult daughters, his wife, and two friends, one who paid the reported $5,000 retainer for Abbott's legal defense. Catalfo summarized what they might say about Abbott – that he is hardworking, rarely even drinks, is a man with old-fashioned values, and someone always there for family and friends when they need him.
Abbott answered the judge's questions with short responses and also to tell the judge, "I'm just sorry for this whole matter happening."
Garfunkel, after much consideration, ordered that Abbott pay a $500 fine and serve no more jail time than the seven days he has already served. He does have 11 months and three weeks additional jail time hanging over his head, but will not have to serve that time if he is on good behavior for three years.
"Being of good behavior means no criminal activity and paying your fine on a schedule. Clean up the house and clean up the circumstances. Now you are on law enforcement's radar," said Garfunkel.
Abbott's son, Jed, has had his day in court. Originally charged with possession of marijuana with intent to sell it, the felony charge of sales was dropped and Jed pled guilty to a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge which included a 12-month jail sentence, all deferred and a $500 fine.
Abbott's wife, Wendy, was originally had five charges brought against her. All were dropped, including two felonies, and she pled guilty to a misdemeanor count of simple assault and was ordered to pay a fine.
Curtis White, 26, will be the last one to go to court. It appears that White was the one police were really after. He is charged with growing marijuana with intent to sell it, with police seizing 40 full-grown plants they are attributing to him