Laveta Arnold shares the defense table with her husband James Arnold as the two go before Lewis County Superior Court Judge James Lawler.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The Onalaska couple arrested in February after police cleaned out what was described as an elaborate indoor garden with more than 600 marijuana plants at their Griel Road property were each given 30 days in jail yesterday.
James L. Arnold and Laveta L. Arnold told officers they’d been growing personal medicinal marijuana for more than 15 years, but during the past five were selling it for profit, generating approximately $136,000 per year, according to court documents.
Centralia police contended the money financed numerous safari trips to Africa to hunt large trophy animals and paid for various assets which were all seized.
A plea deal was worked out in which a charge of money laundering was dropped. The couple, ages 55 and 52, have no previous criminal history, and have been free on bail since two days after they were jailed.
Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello said the maximum penalty of five years in prison and the standard sentencing range for their remaining offenses were the same as for felony possession of drugs.
Yesterday morning, in Lewis County Superior Court, the Arnolds pleaded guilty to manufacture of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to to deliver.
The standard range is zero to six months in the county jail. Masiello and defense attorneys made an agreed recommendation to the judge they each serve 30 days.
Their lawyer Keith Hall told the judge the Arnolds understood they needed to take responsibility and wanted to put it behind them.
Judge James Lawler said it was a difficult case, because of the magnitude of it.
He said he’d looked over numerous letters of support, and in doing so, saw how much of a double life they were leading.
“That confirms to me people can project what they want to, while at the same time doing something extraordinarily illegal,” Lawler said.
Four rows of benches on each side of the small courtroom were nearly filled with family and friends during the morning hearing.
The judge explained that his usual method of deciding a sentence is starting at the middle of the range and then looking for reasons to give more time or less time.
“The fact you’ve been involved in the community and done a lot of things is a basis to go down,” he said. “The nature and extent of this is a reason to go up.”
The Arnolds were active in the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue program. She is a master gardner, according to Hall.
Lawler said he would go along with what the lawyers negotiated. Neither of the Arnolds chose to make any statement on their own behalf.
The judge agreed that while Laveta Arnold was taken into custody after the hearing, James Arnold could wait to check into jail on May 12.
Masiello asked for and was granted an order assessing them each $1,900 in various fees, minus a portion based on the plea negotiations.
Lawler reminded them both they’ve lost their right to use, own or possess firearms, as is customary with felony convictions.
“You would be committing another felony,” he said. “The sentence for illegal possession of a firearm is far worse than what you’re facing here today, so don’t mess with that.”
The case began at the end of last year as an investigation into a money laundering operation by the Centralia Police Department’s Anti-Crime Team and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
Police said James Arnold was a vice president of a medical marijuana dispensary in the Olympia area called Urban Medicinals as well as another location in the Tacoma area. The couple owns a business called Alpha Marine Installations based at their Onalaska home.
Centralia police said after the arrests, the case would also be referred to the Internal Revenue Service for investigation of possible tax fraud and to state authorities for business tax evasion.
Besides the plants, when police and deputies served the search warrant, they seized more than 40 pounds of marijuana processed and packaged for sale with a street value of at least $2,000 per pound; five vehicles including a 1948 Ford hot rod pickup and a 1969 Chevy Corvette; 33 guns included hunting rifles, assault rifles and handguns; and approximately 30 mounted animal heads.
Centralia police said James Arnold admitted to purchasing all or part of the vehicles with the proceeds.
Kent-based lawyer Hall said now that the criminal case is done, he and his partner Bradley G. Barshis will work on the civil forfeiture case being handled by the city of Centralia’s attorney.
“The way that works is they take everything, and you have a right to ask for a hearing to contest it,” he said.
The state medical marijuana law allows for up to 15 plants or 24 ounces for a qualifying patient.
And Initiative 502 passed by voters in November 2012 allows recreational use by adults and set up rules under which those obtaining a state license may cultivate and package cannabis and related products.
Any applicant for a county business license in unincorporated Lewis County however would need to provide approval from the federal government, which still outlaws marijuana. The county has issued no licenses to grow marijuana.
For background, read “Onalaska illegal marijuana enterprise case headed toward plea deal instead of trial” from Friday April 3, 2015, here