Prosecutors Move Against Five Cannabis Operators
By Melinda Burns
Five former North County cannabis operators are scheduled for hearings this month in Superior Court in two separate cases; the charges they face include alleged perjury, unlawful cultivation and sale of marijuana, and conspiracy to commit a crime.
The two cases — Herbal Angels and Santa Barbara Greenland Deliveries, or SBGD — are among dozens of criminal complaints that District Attorney Joyce Dudley has filed against cannabis operators since the Board of Supervisors opened the floodgates to the industry in 2018, transforming Santa Barbara County into a pot capital of California. Typically, these cases have been settled in the pre-trial stage.
In court, lawyers for the Herbal Angels and SBGD defendants will likely attack the ordinance itself, as well as state and federal marijuana laws, pointing to their complexities, loopholes and contradictions.
“There’s so much gray area in the whole process,” said Josh Webb, an attorney for Arthur Olowski, one of three defendants in the SBGD case. “It’s been the Wild West."
Similarly, Bill Makler, an attorney for Ingrid McCann, another SBGD defendant, said, “Ms. McCann is caught up in a cauldron of unsettled and confusing laws that have come about since legalization of marijuana began, and she looks forward to presenting her defenses at trial.”
In the Herbal Angels case, Eli Sheiman and Mariette Wingard of Santa Barbara, co-owners and operators of an allegedly illegal cannabis “grow” at 2761 Cebada Canyon Road west of Buellton, are scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing before Judge Thomas Adams on July 6.
Sheiman is charged with two felony counts of alleged perjury and falsification of public records. Both he and Wingard face two misdemeanor counts for allegedly growing more than six cannabis plants illegally and possessing marijuana for sale. The couple has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The charges against Herbal Angels stem from a December 2019 raid by the Sheriff’s Cannabis Compliance Team on the property, when 3,000 pounds of dried and frozen cannabis products were purportedly destroyed.
At the July 6 hearing, which has been carried over from June 22, Adams will decide whether there is enough evidence for Sheiman and Wingard to stand trial.
In the Santa Barbara Greenland Deliveries case, William “Bubba” Hines, a Louisiana oilman with vineyards west of Buellton and a home in Montecito; and Olowski and McCann of Santa Barbara, are scheduled for a preliminary hearing before Judge Brian Hill on July 13.
Their case centers on an allegedly unlicensed cannabis operation that Hines and Olowski ran at Hines’s vineyard property at 705 Mail Road, off Highway 246; and the alleged illegal sale of marijuana and psilocybin “magic” mushrooms out of Olowski and McCann’s home at 64 Ridge Road in Montecito and their business office at 120 Juana Maria St. in Santa Barbara.
The trio faces multiple felony counts — (two for Hines, two for McCann and four for Olowski) — chiefly for alleged conspiracy to commit crimes regarding the alleged illegal cultivation, sale or transportation of marijuana, but also for the alleged sale of a controlled substance, psilocybin mushrooms, or “magic” mushrooms.
In addition, the SBGL operators face multiple misdemeanor counts for alleged illegal cultivation, possession or transportation of marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms for sale (one count for Hines, five for Olowski and seven for McCann). They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Herbal Angels, a four-acre cannabis "grow" at the end of Cebada Canyon Road west of Buellton, shown here in August, 2019, was raided and shut down by the Sheriff's Cannabis Enforcement Team in December 2019 on charges of allegedly using a fraudulent affidavit to obtain state licenses. (Courtesy photo)
The Herbal Angels affidavit
The case against Herbal Angels was filed in March 2020, but court proceedings were postponed because of the pandemic.
In court documents, the district attorney alleges that Sheiman lied on a county affidavit and claimed to have been growing medical marijuana at Herbal Angels before Jan. 19, 2016. The county allowed self-identified medical marijuana growers to continue operating after that date under “legal, non-conforming” status, so long as they applied for county zoning permits. Without an affidavit, they could not qualify for a state business license.
Court records show that Sheiman’s lawyers, Mark Hardiman of Los Angeles and Rebecca Mendribil, are contending that he and Wingard are “immune from prosecution” because at the time of the raid, Herbal Angels had “twelve valid California state licenses to cultivate cannabis and sell marijuana in Lompoc.” The lawyers note that Sheiman had a pending application with the county for a zoning permit, and that the county still has no process in place that can adjudicate — that is, make a formal judgment — about growers’ claims of legal non-conforming status.
Sheiman’s attorneys further claim that since affidavits are not administered under oath, the county cannot allege that he acted “willfully” or that he “delivered the allegedly false declaration to someone else, intending that it be uttered or published as true.”
In turn, based on aerial photos and the testimony of Blair Pence, a Buellton-area vintner who sold the Cebada Canyon Road property to Avo Vista Farms LLC, in May, 2017, the district attorney alleges that Sheiman used a fraudulent affidavit to get his state licenses. The complaint states that Avo Vista leased the property to Sheiman in July 2017 with “strictly an avocado orchard” and no cannabis there. Sheiman “had to have known,” the district attorney alleges, that marijuana was not being continuously grown on the property from Jan. 19, 2016 to the start of Herbal Angels’ lease.
A briefcase full of cash
Invoices found at Herbal Angels purportedly revealed that the business, a four-acre hoop-house grow off Highway 246, sold more than $1 million in cannabis between July 2017 — when Sheiman signed the lease — and the raid in December 2019, court records show.
On Dec. 16, 2019, several days before the raid, a Sheriff’s detective was notified that Sheiman and Wingard were loading suitcases, a small child and Wingard’s mother into a minivan in front of their former home at 202 Santa Cruz Blvd, records show. The mini-van and a Volvo driven by Sheiman were later stopped by law enforcement officers; they reputedly found $170,000 in cash in one of Sheiman’s briefcases, and more at the couple’s home.
In February, 2020, the district attorney filed a separate case in Superior Court seeking the forfeiture of $202,873 in cash that the Sheriff’s team allegedly seized from Herbal Angels, including the cash in their bank accounts at Union and Wells Fargo banks, records show. The forfeiture case is on hold, pending completion of the criminal case.
Among dozens of cannabis cultivation applications reviewed by the county to date, only a handful have been rejected. But in May 2020, the county Planning Commission unanimously turned down Sheiman’s permit application for 16 acres of cannabis in hoop-houses, six greenhouses and two large two-story processing buildings at 2761 Cebada Canyon Road.
The commissioners said they could not support a “major industrial project” next to a rural neighborhood of 110 people living on ranchettes, all sharing the same narrow, winding road off Highway 246. Neighbors had complained of bright night lights, mysterious nighttime truck traffic, noisy generators and the “skunky” smell of cannabis from Herbal Angels in their bucolic canyon.
SBGL: An oilman’s investment
On August 31, 2016, county records show, William “Bubba” Hines, president of Ridgelake Energy Inc., an oil and gas drilling firm in Metairie, Louisiana, purchased a 99-acre property with 30 acres planted in wine grapes at 705 Mail Road. The price was $1.6 million.
Hines constructed a greenhouse and an industrial building on the property, and, in April 2019, county records show, he and Olowski applied for a zoning permit for the cultivation of 3.5 acres of outdoor cannabis, two cannabis greenhouses, 5,800 square feet of indoor cultivation, and the conversion of two residences and a storage barn for cannabis processing.
Hines also owns a 70-acre vineyard property at 1052 Drum Canyon Road, which he purchased in 2017 for $1.7 million, records show; it’s just across Highway 246 from Mail Road. In 2012, he bought a $7 million home on Knapp Drive in Montecito.
Hines first surfaced in local cannabis news in early February 2019, when the Santa Barbara Independent reported that he was escorted by Sheriff’s office bailiffs out of a heated county Board of Supervisors hearing. A large, rambunctious crowd of cannabis critics from Tepusquet Canyon to Carpinteria was angry about smell of pot in their neighborhoods.
According to the Independent, Hines became “especially incensed” at John De Friel, a prominent cannabis grower, who spoke in favor of the industry. Hines said the smell from De Friel’s operations, which are not located near his properties, would adversely affect his vineyards and a tasting room he planned to build. The article stated that Hines said he had told the bailiffs he was “leaving anyway.”
Texting for pot
The case against Hines and Olowski, the purported operators of Santa Barbara Greenland Deliveries, and McCann, who allegedly made the deliveries, was filed by the district attorney in April this year, based largely on text messages between Hines and Olowski in 2021, as well as several deliveries of cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms allegedly made by McCann to an undercover Sheriff’s detective in September and October last year.
According to court documents, Hines and Olowski allegedly operated an unlicensed cannabis “grow” at 705 Mail Road from January to mid-October, 2021, and allegedly conspired to illegally transport and sell marijuana. They purportedly exchanged text messages agreeing to start planting and, a couple of months later, agreed to take the plants out “so that there is no cannabis present when law enforcement comes to inspect the operation.” And they allegedly exchanged texts about cultivating cannabis without a license and “excuses to use if they got caught”; and how much they should charge for a pound of cannabis from their “grow,” court records show.
In October, 2021, Hines purportedly asked Olowski how many pounds of cannabis they had recently harvested, and Olowski replied that it was between 35 and 37 pounds.
Olowski was reputedly in charge of cultivation and business operations; he would pick up cannabis in Lompoc and take it to 64 Ridge Road for processing and packaging. McCann reputedly assisted with trimming and processing and delivered cannabis to customers of SBGL. Olowski and McCann also allegedly set up and maintained a website to advertise cannabis for sale.
Authorities allege that Hines texted Olowski six times during 2021, asking Olowski to ship him between one and four ounces of marijuana, most often to his Louisiana residence but also to his home in Montecito. Hines reputedly texted Olowski to freeze-wrap the cannabis, pack it in a large box with coffee to mask the odor, and occasionally use a different UPS and substitute “Bubba” for “William” in the address, so that the clerk wouldn’t get suspicious. In all, Hines reputedly arranged for about a pound of marijuana to be mailed to him, and Olowski texted him the tracking numbers to confirm the shipments.
Authorities also allege that Olowski ordered psilocybin mushrooms and had them sent to 64 Ridge View Road to sell to customers of SBGL and that McCann made three deliveries to undercover Sheriff’s detectives who purchased cannabis and psilocybin mushrooms on the SBGL website.
Webb, Olowski’s lawyer, said this week that he was “a young, hardworking guy who has tried to do everything the right way.” He and Hines “applied for all of the proper licensing for the grow” and Olowski “paid taxes on his sales of cannabis,” Webb said. Compared to other cannabis operations in the county, he said, SBGL was small, yet “it was a very large monetary investment that he (Olowski) and Bubba had put into the project, lots of sweat equity.”
Robert Landheer, Hines’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Disheartening for us”
In July 2021, even as the Sheriff’s Department was investigating SBGL, Hines’s and Olowski’s zoning permit application was approved by the county Planning & Development director. Hines’s neighbors, Kathi and Bill Hames, promptly appealed to the county Planning Commission to deny the permit.
The Hameses, who live upwind from the proposed “grow,” contended that the county had not conducted a proper review of the potential fire safety hazards on Mail Road from the SBGL project, or the impacts of increased pumping for cannabis on the underlying ground water basin, or the odor problems.
In October 2021, the County Planning Commission unanimously approved a zoning permit for Hines and Olowski at 705 Mail Road, noting that they were voluntarily going to install carbon filters to reduce the smell of cannabis in their indoor cultivation building and greenhouses. The permit, which is required for a county business license, has not yet been issued.
The commissioners called SBGL one of the “most benign” cannabis projects they had reviewed. The neighbors’ arguments, one commissioner said, were “disingenuous” and “completely without merit.”
“It was disheartening for us,” Kathi Hames said. “It’s a huge statement as to what’s wrong with this county and cannabis.”
Under county ordinances, a business license can be denied to a cannabis operator who is convicted of a felony. Should that happen to SBGL, it would not affect the zoning permit, which runs with the land; another operator could use the permit to grow cannabis at 705 Mail Road.
Melinda Burns is an investigative journalist with 40 years of experience covering immigration, water, science and the environment. As a community service, she offers her report to multiple publications in Santa Barbara County, at the same time, for free.