Greenhouses near Pit River (photo: Drug Enforcement Agency)
In what could be considered an escalation of family hostilities within the 5-member Alturas Indian Rancheria tribe, a complaint by the sister of the tribal leader triggered a federal raid that netted 12,000 marijuana plants housed in 40 newly-built greenhouses.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies moved in last week after Wendy Del Rosa sent a letter in June to the U.S. Department of Justice complaining that the actions of her brother, Phillip Del Rosa, were illegal and not authorized by the tribe. Lawyers for the tribe had notified the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office in March that they were in the process of establishing a medical marijuana collective, under California law.
The DEA affidavit (pdf) for a search warrant identified marijuana-growing sites owned by two related, but separate, tribes in Modoc County. The Alturas tribe’s grow area was at their former event center, 100 yards from their Desert Rose Casino, and the other was at the Pit River tribe’s XL Ranch. The Pit River tribe has around 40 members.
The XL Ranch had the greenhouses and the capacity to grow between 40,000 and 60,000 plants. The DEA said the XL Ranch operation “exceeds any prior known commercial marijuana grow operation anywhere in the 34-county Eastern District.
The affidavit said the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of California notified the lawyers that the plan “to manufacture, transport, and distribute marijuana on the scale contemplated by the tribes ‘is a violation of federal law’ and ‘subject to possible federal enforcement action, including criminal prosecution.’ ”
The DEA said early indications were that the two growing operations were financed by Canadian Jerry Montour, an entrepreneur who sells “hundreds of millions of dollars” of tobacco products a year. They say he has a lengthy rap sheet: illegal possession of a weapon in 1978; breaking and entering in 1983; possession of a narcotic in 1985; conspiracy to import a narcotic in 1988; and cultivation of a narcotic in 1991.
The affidavit refers to Phillip Del Rosa as “purported” tribal chairman and Darren Rose as “purported” vice chairman. They have both been embroiled in a family struggle to define and control the tiny tribe with oversized assets. Rose was reportedly adopted by the tribe in 2003 when he said he could build them a second casino on the I-5 Freeway 150 miles away. Other members, and now-former members, were adopted for various reasons over the years in efforts direct the tribe’s fortunes.
Phillip and his sister Wendy, along with their allies, have clashed repeatedly in and out of court. In March, U.S. Postal Service Administrative Law Judge Gary E. Shapiro tried to sort matters out when Rose and Wendy each laid claim to the tribe’s mailing address. He ruled in favor of Rose, the adoptee, but clearly disapproved of everyone involved. The judge wrote:
“The Tribe’s chaotic governance is mired in continual litigation. Allegations of fraud, embezzlement, forgery, and perjury abound even within this administrative case dealing only with mail delivery.”
And he knew it was far from over. Judge Shapiro wrote, “It has become clear to me that the disputants and others involved in the Tribe’s governance will act in whatever manner seems expedient to them at the moment, depending on the situation at the time amid continually shifting alliances.”
Phillip and Wendy have been allies in the past. In 2008, they reportedly banded together to adopt two white men—Calvin Phelps, a former cigarette manufacturer from North Carolina, and Donald Packingham, reportedly retired law enforcement from New Mexico—to thwart a coup by Rose.
But Wendy sounds like that old gang won’t be getting back together again anytime soon. In her complaint to the Justice Department, she implored them to “take all appropriate law enforcement action to close this illegal drug operation and bring all those responsible to justice.”
The authorities only seized marijuana—no files or computers—and no federal charges are pending, but sometimes it’s the thought that counts.