July 10, 2010 – Hilo, Hawaii
14 Big Island residents, including the founder of the THC Ministry located on the Hilo Bayfront, were arrested Thursday on federal conspiracy and marijuana manufacturing, possession and distribution charges. All 14 pleaded not guilty in federal court on Friday.
Roger Christie, who sees his organization’s use of marijuana as a sacrament and fundamental human right provided by God, was among those arrested after a grand jury returned a secret indictment last month. Christie and 7 others have been ordered by U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright to remain in custody until next week when the federal court will decide if they may be released on bail.
Also in custody: Sherryanne L. St. Cyr, Richard Bruce Turpen, Wesley Mark Sudbury, Donald James Gibson, John DeBaptist Bouey III, Michael Shapiro, and Aaron George Zeeman.
Susanne Lenore Friend, Timothy M. Mann, Roland Gregory Ignacio, Perry Emilio Policicchio, Victoria C. Fiore, and Jessica R. Walsh, were released on $25,000 unsecured signature bond.
The two-year federal investigation included intercepted telephone converstaions and the seizure of 2,296 marijuana plants, nine weapons, 33 pounds of processed marijuana, more than $21,000 cash and four properties.
Christie has always been open – at least in general terms – about the activity at the THC-Ministry. In March, he spoke with Big Island Video News, after feds raided his home and the ministry. At the time, Christie thought the raid would lead to exoneration and legitimacy for his organization.
At a press conference held Friday in Honolulu, the U.S. Attorney Florence Nakaku joined Drug Enforcemnt Administration agents to give details on the arrests.
Nakaku called Christie’s organization a “large scale business” and said the THC Ministry went through half a pound of marijuana a day and served about 60 to 70 customers a day.
Hawaii state law does allow certified individuals to possess a certain amount of marijuana for medical purposes, but authorities say no law protects those who use marijuana for religious purposes.
“It’s still a violation of the federal controlled-substance act, and is therefore a violation of federal drug laws, which DEA enforces,” said Robin Dinlocker, head of Honolulu’s DEA office.
Trials for the 14 defendants are set for September 8.
The investigation was conducted by a joint team of Drug Enforcement Agency, the Hawaii County Police Department, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Postal Inspection Service, and Hawaii High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, the Coast Guard, the State of Hawaii Narcotics Enforcement Division, the State Department of Public Safety and the Hawaii National Guard Counter Drug Unit.
Keoki Kerr and KITV news contributed to this report. Footage also provided by Daryl Lee.