$475,000 marijuana scheme lands Upper Peninsula man 12 years in prison

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MARQUETTE, MI — A 56-year-old Upper Peninsula man was sentenced to 12 years, seven months in prison and required to repay $475,000 for his involvement in what authorities have called a “marijuana production and distribution conspiracy.”

Spencer Troy Ward operated the marijuana production and distribution in Ontonagon, Iron and Marquette counties, U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced Monday. U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ordered Ward to pay the government $475,254, which made up the gross proceeds of his illegal marijuana sales, and ordered him to forfeit Ward’s 80-acre farm, which he used to manufacture marijuana.

Ward came to the attention of a special agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and detectives from the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team in 2014, after law enforcement officers from the Lac Vieux Reservation near Watersmeet reported that marijuana produced and sold by Ward was on the reservation.

Investigators found Ward and his associates were growing marijuana at Ward’s farm and operating marijuana stores in Watersmeet, Iron River and Marquette, and Ward planned to open another store in Houghton, Birge said in a press release. Investigators executed search warrants at Ward’s farm and stores in Febrauary 2016 and discovered a large-scale, sophisticated grow operation that included 186 marijuana plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana.

Investigators seized records from the stores, which showed that Ward sold at least $475,254 worth of marijuana at $250 per ounce or $4,000 per pound. Ward’s employee records showed that Ward used more than 40 people to help him with the operation.

Ward was arrested on state charges and transferred to federal custody in March 2016. After he had been released on bond, Ward had organized another conspiracy to grow and sell marijuana in Ontonagon County during summer 2016, according to the press release. Ward was arrested and remained in federal custody for the remainder of his case. Ward also was previously convicted of transporting 76 kilograms of marijuana in Missouri in 1999.

“Judge Maloney found that Ward’s criminal conduct while on bond was one of several aggravating factors that justified Ward’s long prison sentence,” Birge said in the press release.

Ward used some of the bureaucratic aspects of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act “to convince police and potential employees that his activities were legal,” Birge said.

“Ward is simply a drug dealer, albeit a large-scale grower and distributor of marijuana in the U.P.,” Birge said. “His claim that he was merely a medical marijuana provider was a thinly veiled ruse and an abuse of Michigan’s medical marijuana laws.”

Six of Ward’s associates were convicted as part of his case:

* Sharon Marie Peltola, 54, formerly of Bruce Crossing, Mich. sentenced to 30 months in federal prison;

* Robert Harley Stapleton, 29, formerly of Gwinn, Mich., sentenced to 12 months and 1 day in federal prison;

* Craig Robert Asikainen, 38, formerly of Ishpeming, Mich., sentenced to 18 months in federal prison;

* Byron Hugh Adams, 41, formerly of Ewen, Mich., sentenced to 18 months in federal prison;

* Tracy Eve LaMarch, 39, formerly of Gladstone, Mich., sentenced to 4 months in federal prison;

* Peter John Jousma, formerly of Bruce Crossing, convicted of manufacturing marijuana in Ontonagon County.

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