SALEM — Federal officials are investigating a marijuana processing facility in Oregon after an explosion there injured a man who was previously convicted in a money-laundering operation linked to pot trafficking.
The probe is a rare instance in which U.S. officials are investigating a marijuana case in a state where pot is legal. Federal enforcement of U.S. laws that ban possession and distribution of marijuana is restricted by the U.S. Justice Department but is permitted when marijuana is being distributed to other states and in a few other situations.
Police in Cottage Grove called on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for help after fire officials found hundreds of marijuana plants growing inside the building where an explosion occurred Nov. 16. The explosion burned a man who is on parole after serving a 90-day sentence in the money laundering operation.
“We have a large amount of marijuana grows,” Capt. Doug Skaggs of the Cottage Grove Police Department said. “We’re not different than everyone else (in Oregon).”
Skaggs said that due to manpower issues, the police department often works with the DEA.
When DEA agent Sean Cummings got a warrant the day after the explosion and searched the building, he found 728 growing pot plants, 1,200 pounds of marijuana, and marijuana extracts, according to federal court documents. That address was not authorized by Oregon authorities to grow or process marijuana, the court documents say.
Eric Scully, who was burned on the face and hands in the explosion that was apparently caused by combustible materials used to make marijuana oil, had been on parole after accepting a plea agreement in federal court last year. Investigators say he had shipped marijuana grown in Oregon via the mail to states where it remains illegal. Cottage Grove is next to Interstate 5, a major drug-trafficking route.
A report by The Associated Press in August showed large amounts of marijuana are being smuggled out of Oregon, although what percent of the tons grown in the state is trafficked is debated.
Scully and two co-defendants in that money-laundering case earned over $1 million, authorities alleged. A coffee kiosk, Blac Sheep Coffee, that Scully owned was used to launder the proceeds.
U.S. Attorney Billy Williams had recommended imprisonment of 21 months, followed by three years of supervised release. In the end, Scully got 90 days, had to pay restitution of $4,800 and forfeited several rifles and pistols and four expensive Swiss watches, among other items.
After the illegal grow operation was discovered last month, local prosecutors declined to pursue the matter, according to the federal documents. The district attorney’s office in Lane County did not immediately return a call for comment. Kevin Sonoff, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Portland, said he cannot comment on active investigations.
Williams, the U.S. attorney, told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this year he wanted local jurisdictions to request help from his office, which has prosecutors who specialize in drug cases, to “work in partnerships with us to address these issues of overproduction and diversion.”