The New Times of San Luis Obispo County reported last week on the exploits of drug informant and police imposter Daniel Victor Lee, who helped destroy the Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary run by Charles C. Lynch.
In a cover story titled, “Snitch,” the alternative weekly’s Kylie Mendonca notes that during a seven-month period, Lee “worked on ten cases, being paid a total of $8,185” by the SLO County Sheriff’s Department.
Along the way, Lee helped the sheriff track down users with as little as five grams of marijuana, about a $50 value, to the more notorious set-up in which one of Lynch’s employees, Abrahm Baxter, sold $3,200 worth of marijuana in the Big 5 parking lot in San Luis Obispo.
Baxter, whose sale had nothing to do with Lynch’s dispensary (which federal prosecutors disupted), was sentenced to 120 days in jail.
In another shakedown, thanks to Lee, police seized 25 pounds of marijuana and four pounds of hashish. One of the men arrested in the case, Elbert Shoemate, later committed suicide.
The sheriff’s department claims an uneasy alliance with snitches such as Lee——most are themselves drug abusers or face other criminal charges—but argues that without them (referred to as "turncoats," "rats," "squealers") it's difficult, sometimes impossible, to take out the big-time drug dealers.
“It’s not pleasant, no one enjoys it, but it’s part of the way we do business. If you didn’t have informants, then a lot of major cases would go unsolved,” the New Times quoted Sgt. Rick Neufeld of the county’s Narcotics Task Force.
Informant Lee has a history of criminal charges starting with three felony counts from which he walked in Orange County in 2002, the New Times reports. He also was charged with impersonating a police officer.
In an ironic twist, Lee, who resides outside SLO County, was scheduled to board a plane to be a witness for Baxter but never appeared for testimony because he was kicked off the plane “for allegedly stealing from another passenger’s purse.”
Meanwhile, Lynch's life has been turned upside-down.
Judge George Wu sentenced Lynch last month to one year, one day in federal prison for “selling large quantities of marijuana,” the government argued, from his Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary. Lynch remains free pending appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court.
Federal prosecutor David Kowal is appealing Wu’s decision, demanding that Lynch serve the full five-year minimum mandatory sentence.
Wu, Lynch says, “didn’t even want to give me one year.” But the judge was unable to get around the stickier points of mandatory sentencing laws, Lynch adds.
Kowal's appeal runs contrary to early indications from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that the Obama government would leave medical marijuana dispensaries and their proprietors alone.
Kowal would have had to get permission from the Department of Justice to pursue a sentencing appeal, Lynch says, adding that he feels like the government is harassing him.
In the two years since his arrest, Lynch lost his business, declared bankruptcy, and is in imminent danger of losing his home. Additionally, Lynch has had difficulty finding work.
With his case on appeal, and the uncertainty of his future, prospective employers have been hesitant to put him on the payroll, Lynch says.
"Maybe the government is trying to make an example of me," Lynch says of Kowal's appeal.
“I’m not giving up either,” he adds, "I’m making my appeal too. I just wish it would all end.”
Lynch says the ordeal has taken a toll on his life, having lost nearly everything he owns. He travels twice a month to Los Angeles to be tested for drugs and lives by the day.
“It definitely makes life unplannable,” Lynch says. “The only good thing about it all is that I’m not in jail, but I’m thinking maybe I should just go and get it over with. At least I’d have free room and board.” §