Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Connections to a Conspiracy



It's not often that Humboldt County ends up in the pages of ESPN the Magazine. But, there we are in this week's edition. It turns out it was the discovery of $100,000 in cash and a map of Eureka found in the trunk of a marijuana-perfumed Toyota Camry that spawned the massive FBI case a few years back that ultimately took down a sports betting ring that was fixing college basketball games.

Some locals might remember the case. It captured some headlines in 2011 when the feds announced the indictments of 10 people, including former University of San Diego basketball star Brandon Johnson and a then 23-year-old Garberville man, Jake Andrew Salter. But little was known about the investigation — dubbed "Operation Hookshot" by the FBI — and how Salter wound up involved with one of college basketball's few confirmed bribery and game-fixing schemes. The answer, according to court documents, is that Salter wasn't much involved at all, other than selling pounds of Humboldt County's finest to the wrong people.

Still, he wound up sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit sports bribery, conduct an illegal gambling business and distribute marijuana. Turns out, under the law, someone involved in one aspect of a criminal conspiracy can be culpable for the whole enchilada.

The ESPN the Magazine piece, "Portrait of a Point Shaver," is almost exclusively focused on how Johnson — USD's all-time leader in assists and points scored and a second round draft choice of the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards — wound up taking $1,000 a game to manipulate point spreads and hand big pay days to a few in-the-know gamblers. But, the story does include a few tidbits of local interest.

The case started when U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped a man named Steve Goria near San Diego and — after noting that Goria's Camry reeked of weed — searched the vehicle, finding the large stacks of $100 bills and the map of Eureka, which the article describes as "a Northern California city known for growing high-grade pot." After Goria was unable to adequately describe where the cash came from, agents seized it and started a case file that later wound up in the hands of the FBI. A series of wire taps, some surveillance and a couple of confidential informants later, the FBI had a groundbreaking case.

According to court documents, the FBI found evidence that Salter was involved in a pair of marijuana sales involving Goria — one in November 2010 and the other in February 2011 — but no evidence linking him to the sports-betting conspiracy. But, prosecutors alleged that Goria illegally bet some of the proceeds from his marijuana distribution network on college basketball games, including games he'd paid Johnson to throw. In the eyes of the feds', Salter was involved in it all.

The case seems to offer a cautionary tale to those involved in Humboldt County's underground economy: Be careful who you're dealing with or there's no telling what you might get caught up in.

USA Today reports that a University of Arizona researcher is inching closer to launching a federally sanctioned study looking at how medical marijuana affects military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. While anecdotal evidence that pot helps with PTSD is plentiful, there haven't been any controlled trial tests due to marijuana's classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, so the study would be groundbreaking. Lead Researcher Suzanne Sisley has already received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration and, more recently, the Public Health Service. The lone federal hurdle remaining? The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Good luck with that.

Planning on spending the first months of 2015 partying like you're in Colorado? Might want to make some other plans, or buy a plane ticket. LA Weekly is reporting that efforts to get a pair of initiatives on the 2014 ballot to legalize recreational marijuana in California have stalled. Looks like volunteer efforts to gather the half-million-or-so signatures needed to qualify each initiative for the ballot haven't made much headway and neither campaign has the $3 million in cash it would take to flood the streets with professional signature gatherers. Insert lazy, disorganized pot-head joke here.

The Huffington Post and others reported on March 14 that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill to force President Barack Obama to enforce federal marijuana laws and to authorize the House and the Senate to sue the president if he fails to do so. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deemed the bill "dead on arrival" in the Senate.

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