FAIRBANKS — A 20-year-old man who as a teenager worked on an Alaska marijuana farm has been sentenced to five years in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline handed down the punishment Friday after listening to Nathaniel Harshman read a 40-minute, paragraph-by-paragraph response to the government’s sentencing recommendations, which called for an almost six-year term.
Beistline asked the young man to stop partway through to be sworn in as a witness, so his words would be considered testimony. The judge told Harshman he would make a good lawyer and asked if his father had provided help. Harshman’s father, Floyd Harshman, is in jail awaiting sentencing on charges related to the Eliott Highway grow operation.
The judge told Harshman that lobbying Congress is the more appropriate way to challenge laws one considers unjust.
“I know you love your dad. He’s an articulate guy. He can be very charming. But that doesn’t mean all his advice is good advice,” Beistline said.
Harshman acknowledged working on a 477-plant grow in the summer of 2011. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a five-year minimum sentence for those with operations larger than 100 plants.
He disputed allegations that he sold the drugs and tended about 1,300 plants, including a larger and more-productive 2010 harvest. Such accusations were false and based on the word of a government informant, he said at Friday’s sentencing.
Though it did not lengthen the sentence, Beistline ruled against Harshman on the issue of whether he possessed a weapon in furtherance of a drug crime, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/JwPSfi ).
Harshman said the firearms were protection from animals, and defense attorney Burke Wonnell argued it’s wrong to apply a gun law designed for urban gangsters to a “farmhand” on the Elliott Highway.
Beistline, however, said the guns were part of the drug operation, regardless of whether they protected the operation from animals or people.
He also seemed skeptical about claims they were not used to deter people, referencing “At Your Own Risk Road,” the turn on the Elliott Highway that led to the grow, and to a no trespassing sign that read: “trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.”
“That sign was meant for more than a passing moose,” Beistline said.
Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com