Prosecutors file more charges in mine pot bust

636 marijuana plants, 50 pounds of processed seized this week

Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2009

FAIRBANKS - An elaborate marijuana growing operation at a gold mine near Manley may have been around for more than 20 years, according to prosecutors.

Investigators this week seized 636 mature marijuana plants and 50 pounds of processed marijuana at the site west of Fairbanks off the Elliott Highway.

A second criminal complaint was filed Thursday against John T. Larson, 49, of Fairbanks, who had been charged with two counts of felony drug misconduct. Prosecutors added two more felony counts of marijuana possession, plus charges of felony assault and interfering with official proceedings.

No additional charges have been filed against a man charged with working at the marijuana grow, 33-year-old Brandon Phillips.

The Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement last week received a tip regarding marijuana at the Eureka Gold Mine operation from a man who worked Larson's mining claim until several weeks ago.

The former employee was not identified in court documents.

He told investigators he took offense to comments Larson made about his children and had a falling out with him.

He quit in May but Larson invited him to the claim two days later to make amends, prosecutors said. The former employee was taken to a diesel generator shed, where Larson pushed in the rear concrete wall and showed him a larger room with a bigger generator and hundreds of marijuana plants.

The wall had no seams in it and was "very well disguised," according to a criminal complaint.

The room contained two carved out culverts about 20 by 30 feet that contained "football stadium lights" and marijuana plants at different stages of growth.

The man was reintroduced to Phillips, who he thought worked at the mining claim.

"Now you know what I do for 10 hours every day," Phillips said, according to the complaint.

The room had an "elaborate filtering" system that would remove the odor of marijuana from the room but keep the heat of the grow lights from melting snow outside, according to the complaint.

Larson told the former employee that the room was the "real mine" and offered him a job harvesting marijuana for $1,000 per day, according to the complaint.

The man turned him down.

Larson then told him that no one had ever rejected his offer before and he had "killed people for less." He also claimed to have taken down a suspicious Blackhawk helicopter that flew over the grow and asked the man if he knew "how many ways a miner can get rid of a body," according to the complaint.

The man left the property and alerted authorities several weeks later.

Prosecutors say evidence at the scene indicates that the operation processed 10 pounds of marijuana per week, which was loaded into duffel bags and possibly flown to Fairbanks on Larson's Cessna 170B.

Larson told investigators that other miners at the claim knew nothing about the marijuana grow.

Neither Larson nor Phillips has a criminal record.

The street price of a pound of marijuana is $4,000, prosecutors said.

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