A $25,000 arrest warrant has been issued for a Pierce County man alleged to be behind an unlicensed marijuana growing operation in a rented building in Chehalis's industrial district.
Steven D. Smith, 39, and two individuals who told police they worked for Smith tending the plants are charged each with one count of manufacture of marijuana. Christopher M. Hannigan and Regina V.S. Champaco, both 41 years old and both residing at the same address in Tacoma, appeared before a judge in Lewis County Superior Court yesterday afternoon. They were allowed release on unsecured signature bonds.
Charging documents in the case identify the building only as on State Street in Chehalis, with no address, and note it shares a common wall with a neighboring business. Documents indicate a case number associated with the Lewis County Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team.
A Chehalis detective was contacted in March about the possible marijuana growing there and the investigation led to a traffic stop for a broken windshield of a suspect vehicle as it left the building's parking lot on Match 17, according to court documents.
The Tacoma couple said they were working for Smith, according to court documents. Hannigan said he'd built grow rooms and was paid $2,000 a month for the work, according to court documents. When law enforcement searched the building, they found more than 400 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, charging documents allege.
Among the early clues, listed in court documents: the detective went to the manager of the neighboring business, which shared a wall, and learned there was mold growing in his building and who said when he spoke about it to Richard Na, the son of the building's owner, Na just laughed it off.
When the Chehalis detective visited the exterior of the building, he could smell the odor of fresh marijuana outside and located items in the trash such as a broken fan, a broken thermostat, fertilizer and potting soil. Detectives checked the power usage for the building and discovered a tremendous increase when January of this year was compared with September of 2014.
Police could not find either a Chehalis business license or any application to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on file. The building's owner is not named in the court documents.
On March 23, the detective contacted Na directly, who said he rented to Smith for $5,000 per month and Smith pays the electric bill which runs about $1,300 each month, Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Paul Masiello wrote in charging documents. Na indicated Smith told him he had medical authorizations to grow for multiple people and would have no more marijuana than was allowed by law, according to Masiello.
When told there were over 400 plants and not the 75 Na had anticipated, Na appeared surprised, Masiello wrote. Law enforcement tried to locate Smith at his home in Lakewood, but were unsuccessful.
On June 23, Lewis County prosecutors filed charges against all three, sought and secured the arrest warrant for Smith, and also requested court summons to be issued for Hannigan and Champaco. They were late to their court hearing yesterday afternoon and the judge had already authorized warrants for their arrest, but essentially tore them up, defense attorney Joely O'Rourke said.
Manufacture of marijuana is a class C felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Hannigan and Champaco were ordered to return to court on July 21 for their arraignments.