VALE

The Malheur County District Attorney’s Office and Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe are working on a plan to use money obtained through forfeited funds involved in the 45th Parallel case to help cover costs of prosecution in that case.

45th Parallel was a shop that sold medical marijuana and supplies to patients who had both an Oregon medical marijuana card and a membership with the business. The dispensary was shut down in 2012 after an 11-month investigation into complaints that it was operating illegally by charging medical patients at a far higher rate than street prices. Nineteen people were indicted on charges that included drug possession, delivery and racketeering.

The issue of using forfeited money came before the Malheur County Court Wednesday because a budget transfer resolution will have to be approved and signed by the court. The amount of the requested transfer is $7,000 to allow Mike Dugan to complete the 45th Parallel case.

Dugan, who has been working under contract with the county, began prosecuting the case in 2012, according to documents presented to the court.

In a letter to the County Court, District Attorney Dan Norris said the remaining 45th Parallel trial is expected to last two weeks and involve four defendants.

In a separate document, it was shown that the total amount of compensatory fines levied to date, to be paid to the Sheriff’s Office as partial restitution, is $31,975. So far $23,000 of total judgements have been collected.

The Sheriff’s Office received about $40,000 out of $55,000 recovered at the home of William Esbensen, Boise, owner of 45th Parallel, and received $7,000 from $14,500 seized at home of Tony Manzo, Ontario. The seizures were made during the investigation in 2012.

The total proceeds, either by judgement or compensatory fines or through sharing of forfeited funds, is approximately nearly $79,000, with $70,000 having been collected.

The money received by the Sheriff’s Office is put in a dedicated fund that does not have a line item for the contract prosecutor, said Lorinda Dubois, county administrative officer. A budget resolution is required to make that change.

If the court agrees to let Norris use the funds from the forfeiture or other dedicated funds, personal services and payroll costs would be added to that budget, she said in information given to the court.

“I have discussed the specifics with the sheriff at this point,” Norris said. “We will be providing the county with $7,000 in this fiscal year to pay for 200 additional hours, which should allow Mr. Dugan to complete the 45th Parallel case.”

The Court did not take any action Wednesday. It will be on the court’s agenda next week.

Norris also said that the new county budget, which the county budget committee will take up shortly, needs to include a discussion about financial needs in the District Attorney’s Office related to five murder cases it is responsible for prosecuting.

“Historically, we have never had more than one murder case open at any given time,” Norris said. “We presently are investigating one murder case that does not have a name defendant, and four other cases where we have or soon will file formal charges. Three of those cases are capital cases.”

One experienced attorney works almost full time on each case, Norris said.

Larry Meyer is a news reporter at The Argus Observer. He can be reached at (541) 823-4813 or by emailing larrym@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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