VALE—Legal proceedings for 45th Parallel have finally come to a close after

judges handed down their final sentencing for the last of 19 individuals who were indicted in the case.

45th Parallel was a medical marijuana dispensary in Ontario that was shut down in September 2012 following an 11-month investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies, including the High Desert Drug Enforcement Task Force, Malheur County Sheriff’s Office, Ontario and Nyssa police departments and Idaho agencies.

Deputy District Attorney Mike Dugan said the investigation began following a complaint to the sheriff’s office from a medical marijuana cardholder who was struggling to get medicine.

The business and its associates were accused of turning a profit from their sale of medical marijuana as well as growing marijuana on their business site. Both actions are illegal under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

A patient is allowed to reimburse a grower for the cost of growing marijuana or for the cost of that grower’s caregiver. A caregiver is a person authorized to provide medical marijuana care to an authorized patient. Oregon law also stipulates that marijuana grown by a grower for a patient belongs to that patient.

“They engaged in a very commercial exchange,” Dugan said. “They were using money that they acquired to pay wages, and you can’t do that. They were not only buying the marijuana for $7 a gram, they were turning around and selling it for $14 a gram.”

At the conclusion of the investigation, an indictment was returned for 19 people participating in racketeering operations.

Dugan said that although most of the 19 people indicted pleaded guilty to lesser charges as a part of a plea deal, some of the defendants pleaded not guilty and went to trial, the last of which wrapped up June 23.

Only one defendant, Jose Nieves, was never arrested. His whereabouts are unknown. There are warrants out for his arrest for his connection with the 45th Parallel case.

Many of the defendants were growers and had to pay large fines and compensation to the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office for investigation costs.

William Esbensen, from Boise, was convicted of two counts of racketeering, one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering and eight counts of delivery of marijuana for consideration, which is essentially marijuana being transported to be sold. However, Judge Gregory Baxter merged the racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering charges into a single racketeering charge.

Esbensen was sentenced to 160 day in jail as a condition of two years’ probation.

Esbensen is prohibited from associating with marijuana dispensaries, his medical marijuana cards were revoked and he will be responsible for court costs, which have yet to be determined.

Raymond Scott Kangas, from Ontario, was convicted on the same racketeering counts as Esbensen, as well as four counts of delivery of marijuana for consideration.

Kangas received 24 months of probation, with 20 days in jail credit for time served. He also had his medical marijuana cards revoked and is forbidden from associating with dispensaries. He is responsible for some court fees, which will be determined in July.

Kerry Rhoan, from Nampa, was convicted on racketeering and one count of delivery of controlled substance for consideration.

Judge Patricia Sullivan merged Rhoan’s racketeering counts into a single count. He was given two years’ probation and must pay a $2,000 fine to the state of Oregon and a $3,500 fee to the Malheur County district attorney.

He had his medical marijuana cards revoked and is forbidden from associating with dispensaries and other co-defendants. He must stay clear of drugs and have no association with drug offenders. Rhoan was also given 10 days in jail, which he can serve on weekends so he can retain his job.

Kelly Rhoan, from Nampa, received the same conviction as his brother. However, he was not found guilty of conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Due to illness, he was not ordered to serve jail time. Instead, he must perform 160 hours of community service. He also will pay the same fines as his brother.

Dugan said that in the case of racketeering convictions, the court is allowed to impose compensation to the district attorney for the costs of prosecution. The amount will be set in July.

The end of the trials means the conclusion of a three-year saga. Dugan said the prosecution was focused on making an example.

“The point was to convince them and others like them that we’re not going to allow law violators to use the violation of the law to make profits,” Dugan said.

Zachary Chastaine is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4815 or by emailing zachc@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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