Calif.-to-Ohio pot case winding up with plea deals

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS - AP Legal Affairs Writer
This undated photo released by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Meili Cady, 25, of Los Angeles. Cady pleaded guilty Friday, April 22, 2011, to a scheme of shipping hundreds of pounds of marijuana to Ohio in suitcases. (AP Photo/U.S. Marshals Service)
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This undated photo released by the U.S. Marshals Service shows Meili Cady, 25, of Los Angeles. Cady pleaded guilty Friday, April 22, 2011, to a scheme of shipping hundreds of pounds of marijuana to Ohio in suitcases.

Until early 2009, David Garrett made his living as a street-level marijuana dealer in Los Angeles, according to his attorney. Then, the attorney said, he struck up a relationship with a woman whose lifestyle required Garrett to raise his drug sales to another level.

Garrett and his new girlfriend, Lisette Lee, each brought something to the relationship, Garrett's attorney said in court papers.

"Garrett indicated he had a supplier who could provide them with a larger quantity of marijuana and that he knew of people who would purchase the supply in Ohio," his attorney, Summer McKeivier, of Studio City, Calif., said in a court filing earlier this month.

"Lee indicated she had access to planes and money to fund the purchase and transportation," the filing said.

On Friday, Garrett was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison. He was the first of six defendants to be sentenced in a scheme that delivered thousands of pounds of marijuana to Ohio in suitcases.

The government had argued for a sentence of 11 to 14 years. Garrett pleaded guilty last year to distributing more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana.

Authorities say the plot involved 14 flights from Los Angeles to Ohio and elsewhere, distributed about 7,000 pounds of the drug and earned more than $3 million from November 2009 through April of last year.

The government said Garrett oversaw the packaging and concealment of each load in large suitcases, sometimes directing others to conceal the marijuana odor with Febreze and dryer sheets.

Garrett was the direct link to the source of the marijuana in Los Angeles, according to the government, and along with Lee was responsible for shipping the drug from Los Angeles to Ohio and shipping the profits back.

Garrett helped Lee recruit a group of four or five to transport the 500-pound marijuana shipments and gave money to Lee or her associates to pay for round-trip chartered private flights from Los Angeles at a cost of $50,000 per trip, according to Matthew Heufelder, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

Marijuana "is a drug that is too commonly abused in our society," Tim Pritchard, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued in court papers ahead of Friday's sentencing.

The drug has a negative impact on its users, "their families and society as a whole," he said.

Garrett's attorney, McKeivier, argued for the minimum sentence of 10 years, saying his client was raised by a single mother and had struggled for much of his life with drugs and alcohol. In addition, the attorney said, Garrett began cooperating as soon as he was arrested and has since apologized.

Garrett began the scheme "to keep up with the extravagant lifestyle of his girlfriend," McKeivier said in an April 11 court filing. His role in the scheme ended in April 2010 when he broke up with Lee, the filing said.

Lee arranged to have her family's personal travel agent arrange chartered flights and rental cars and had her family's personal pilot fly the planes, according to the filing.

"By most accounts, he is an honorable and respectful young man," Garrett's attorney said.

Lee pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. She faces 10 years to life, though under federal sentencing rules she's likely to receive the lower sentence.

Lee's Columbus attorney, Jon Saia, declined comment Friday.

Also Friday, an aspiring Los Angeles actress pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 200 pounds of marijuana as part of the scheme.

Meili Cady, 25, was a courier on just one of the California-to-Ohio flights in June 2010, Heufelder testified.

The government considers Cady, who worked as Lee's personal assistant, the most minor participant in the scheme.

Cady "made a bad decision which she regrets and she wants to do everything her power to try to set things right," her Los Angeles attorney, Michael Proctor, said after the hearing.

A sentencing date has not been set for Cady.

The government on Friday submitted a plea agreement for a sixth and final defendant, Henry Hernandez of Los Angeles, indicating a plea to one count of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 200 pounds of marijuana.

No date for a plea hearing was set and his Columbus attorney, Nathan Akamine, declined comment.