Feds may have to reimburse marijuana grower

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2007

FAIRBANKS - A Fairbanks man whose marijuana growing operation was disbanded in the early 1990s is poised to be reimbursed for property confiscated by the federal government.

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In a recent ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said John Collette did not get proper notice for goods seized, including two airplanes, a dump truck, snowmobiles and more than $40,000 from bank accounts, according to court documents.

A lower court will put a price on the items' value, plus interest, unless the federal government appeals or settles with Collette, who is now 60.

Collette and his family were asleep early one morning 15 years ago when authorities, led by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, raided their home and business, Happy Creek Greenhouse.

Collette and 14 others were charged with crimes associated with a marijuana syndicate.

Collette fled the country but later returned and pleaded guilty to multiple charges related to manufacturing and distributing marijuana.

He served more than eight years of an 11-year sentence and was released in early 2003. He has since spent much of his time working on his lawsuit against the government.

"I represented myself from beginning to end," he said.

The case came before a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court after a lower court dismissed Collette's claim.

The 9th Circuit ruling, issued Sept. 6 by memorandum, did not completely side with Collette. The panel said proper notice was given before the DEA seized a 1984 Audi Quattro, 1984 Volkswagen Quantum, 1982 Kubota tractor and marijuana growing equipment.

The DEA seizes such property if it is deemed to have been bought with drug proceeds. Owners must be notified of what was seized and how to contest the seizures.

The agency mailed Collette several notices regarding each seized item.

A 1988 Glasair III aircraft was among about a dozen items that the court said Collette was not properly notified on. The DEA sent three notices of seizure to Collette at three different addresses. One was returned for insufficient address, another because no mail box was available and the third for an unknown reason.

Some notices were sent to Cook Inlet Pre-Trial Facility in Anchorage and signed for by workers there.

The federal government contends that Collette didn't know about the notices because he didn't want to know.

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