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Arrest of Sheriff’s Deputy Draws Federal Attention

A California sheriff’s deputy, a local postal worker, and two other Golden State residents face federal felony charges for allegedly trafficking large amounts of marijuana to Pennsylvania.

Marijuana BustU.S. Attorney Peter Smith of Pennsylvania said in March that the four defendants have been indicted by a grand duty on charges they shipped cannabis from Yuba County in Northern California to York County outside Philadelphia. The defendants were arrested in Pennsylvania in January.

They are Yuba County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Heath, 37; Ramona Long, a 56-year-old postal employee from Oroville, Cal.; Tyler Long, 32, an Oroville resident; and Ryan Falsone, 27, also a resident of the Butte County city. The Longs are mother and son, official said, and Heath is Ramona Long’s son-in-law.

The federal charges include conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and conspiracy to launder money from drug sales, according to Smith’s office. Heath also faces charges of possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.

The marijuana ring allegedly operated from September 2014 until the arrests Jan. 7. The cannabis was cultivated in Oroville and mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to P.O. boxes in York and Mountville, Pa., according to authorities. The drug was also allegedly shipped to a home in nearby Hanover, Pa.

Cannabis mailed across the country

The defendants mailed money back from York to a P.O. box in Bangor, Cal., prosecutors said. The shipments included roughly 200 pounds of marijuana, and the money amounted to about $500,000, they said. The four Californians were arrested by a local drug task force in York County, Pa.

Other agencies in the bust included the DEA, the IRS, the sheriff’s office in Butte County, and inspectors at the U.S. Postal Service.

At the time of the arrest in January, Deputy Heath was carrying his badge and side arm, a fact that was the basis for his firearms charge. The defendants were originally charged by local Pennsylvania prosecutors with delivery of marijuana, conspiracy to deliver marijuana, and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver it.

The defendants were arrested during a traffic stop, booked in a local jail, and released on $1 million bail each. It was not clear whether they were jailed again on the federal charges.

“Suffice it to say it was not a routine traffic stop,” York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said at the time of the initial arrest. “We knew who we were going to stop and why.”

A coordinated police effort

Marijuana HandcuffsKearney said police were responding to “intelligence received.” The bust, he said, was part of a coordinated effort by local police agencies. The cannabis was sealed in double wrapped bundles and was valued at more than $2 million on the street.

“This was very sophisticated operation that was ongoing,” Kearney said.

The indictments are just the latest black eye on California police officers involved in marijuana crimes. Several officers in Orange County were charged in March with vandalizing a medical cannabis dispensary and stealing snacks from employees there. Hidden cameras recorded at least one officer stealing and eating a marijuana edible from the shop, but the Santa Ana Police Department denied it happened.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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