Charges Dropped against Heidi Lepp in Marijuana Case

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Heidi Lepp will not have to return to court after all.  Ten days after a jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case where Ms. Lepp was charged with two felony conspiracy charges, prosecutors decided that they lacked evidence needed to obtain a conviction.

Ms. Lepp had faced felony conspiracy to cultivate and sell marijuana on the black market in violation of state laws on collectives.  During closing arguments, the DA attempted to argue that Ms. Lepp had made an agreement with the growers to illegally sell their product for profit and out of state.

Defense Attorney Joseph Tully told the Vanguard by phone, “In viewing all the evidence they did not have a case.”  He noted, as he did during closing arguments, “You can go through all the testimony and there’s nothing linking Heidi Lepp to any wrongdoing.”

Mr. Tully noted that Ms. Lepp had emailed the investigating officers all of the locations of her churches, “and said if you find anybody violating the law, I will kick them out of my church.”  He pointed out, “That’s not the actions of a criminal.”

Mr. Tully said the prosecution made the call “due to insufficient evidence.

“They came at us with everything that they had,” he explained.  “Under the best conditions, them having everything.  Us being behind the eight-ball.  I had had the case for four months.  The DA had had it for a year and a half.  They had everything going for them.

“Heidi Lepp was indigent and we couldn’t afford to hire an expert,” he added.  “So we didn’t have an expert testifying on our side.”

He believed that had the case proceeded, he would have been able to make adjustments and “they couldn’t have.  They were locked in on the record.  Their investigators already testified under oath to what they investigated.  There was nothing linking Heidi Lepp to criminal activity or even knowledge of criminal activity.”

For Mr. Tully, a big takeaway is: “Law enforcement doesn’t know the law on cannabis.  They wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money because they didn’t like what she was doing.”

Previous Article: Jury Hangs in Heidi Lepp Marijuana Case

The jury hung 7-5 in the conspiracy case against Heidi Lepp, charged with conspiracy to illegally cultivate and sell cannabis.  The Yuba County jury heard closing arguments last Friday, but this week could not reach a unanimous verdict and so Ms. Lepp will come back on April 4 for a hearing in Marysville before a scheduled second trial on April 17 – if it gets that far.

“I look at this as step one in completely vindicating Heidi (Lepp),” her attorney Joseph Tully told the Vanguard.  “I think that this case was almost ideal conditions for the prosecutor and they couldn’t convict her.”

He believes with more time and some adjustments on their part, “I don’t see any way that the prosecutor can convict her.”

During closing arguments, the DA attempted to argue that Ms. Lepp had made an agreement with the growers to illegally sell their product for profit and out of state, both in violation of laws on collectives.

But Mr. Tully countered that on the day that she was arrested, she had $200 in her pocket and a negative $400 balance in her bank account.

Moreover, in a conspiracy, the prosecutor had to show not only that she broke the law, but that she intended to break the law.  Mr. Tully argued there was no evidence that Ms. Lepp instructed or directed any of the growers – some of whom did in fact sell product for profit and out of state – or even knew of it.

A key factor in the jury hanging, though, was an issue from the August 2, 2017, raid that that resulted in two deputies being shot and wounded by a caretaker of a marijuana garden on property that was considered part of Ms. Lepp’s Sugarleaf Rastafarian Church.

Even though Mr. Tully argued during closing statements that Ms. Lepp was not being charged with respect to that incident, he told the Vanguard on Thursday that he believes some of the jurors held her accountable for it.

Some of the jurors trying to convict her were reading the jury instructions incorrectly, Mr. Tully explained.  “They believed that just because some of the people that were part of Heidi’s church were bad actors, that that meant that Heidi was responsible.”

He said, “That’s not how the law works.”

There were two issues that the jury seemed to be stuck on.  One was whether Ms. Lepp could be responsible for unilateral actions of her church members.

Joseph Tully explained, “The law doesn’t work like that.  You have to knowingly participate in crime in order to be convicted of it.”

The second issue was Sgt. Speer testified that Ms. Lepp said, “I’m not a collective, we’re a church now.”

Mr. Tully explained, “That’s not how the law works either.  Being a collective is about the actions that you do, it’s not about the words that you say.”

In order to convict her on the crime of conspiracy, the DA acknowledged that there had to be an agreement between people to commit a crime and that agreement then needs an overt act to put the plan into motion.  He said they are only required to show one overt act, but in this case they have identified 24 overt acts.

But Mr. Tully argued that Mr. Vacek, the prosecutor, never specifically tied Ms. Lepp to any overt act.

He said, “There is no connection” between Ms. Lepp and the growers who violated state law.  He explained, “Her church regulations were that you had to follow the California collective law.”

He added, “She had written an email to Sgt. Speer saying here are my church locations, if you find anybody violating the law I will kick them out of my church.”

He stated, “Being open with law enforcement I guess gets you raided and financially ruined and almost imprisoned.”

Mr. Tully during closing arguments criticized the prosecution and police for not knowing the law on collectives.

“If you’re going to do a cannabis case, the first thing you should do is look at the law on collectives,” Mr. Tully told the church.

However, as he told the Vanguard, “It’s doesn’t matter that they don’t know the law because still half the jury didn’t care.”

“What I want the jury to think about is what is the conspiracy in this case, who are our conspirators?” Yuba County Deputy DA John Vacek said during his rebuttal, “The conspirators in this case were the 17 other people in Yuba County.

“That’s what they were doing,” he said. “The conspiracy is that she was selling a worthless product – the binder here – with the promise that this would keep them out of trouble. That’s it. She sold them a bill of goods.

“When the rubber hit the road, it was the Heidi show,” he said.

This approach almost worked, Mr. Tully acknowledged.

“Their theory boiled down to Heidi convincing people to join her church and in those binders she was coaching them on how to follow the law pertaining to California collective.  Because some people were bad actors, (the prosecutor) said she was enabling them.  And because she was enabling them, (the prosecutor) argued that she was criminally liable.

“That’s not how the law works,” he said.  “He didn’t know the law.  The prosecution didn’t know the law on collectives and the prosecution doesn’t know the law on conspiracy either.”

This is a classic case of felony conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor.  Conspiracy is a wobbler under California law and can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

“Cultivation and sale are misdemeanors after Prop. 64,” Mr. Tully explained.  “Rather than charging her with two misdemeanors, they charged her with conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor as a felony.”

He added, “They were coming after her with both guns blazing.”

But the bigger point here is that “there was no evidence that she had done anything wrong.”  In fact, he argued, “all the evidence was that she was following the law.”

Now the question is whether this case will be re-tried.  Mr. Tully said that the judge advised the prosecution not to re-try the case.  Mr. Vacek has retired, effective at the end of the trial, so if it is re-tried there will be a new deputy DA.

We will find out more on April 4 when the case comes back to Yuba County Superior Court.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Sharla Cheney

    It is my understanding that this woman thinks that if she creates a religion, her marijuana grows don’t have to be permitted and she doesn’t have to pay any taxes.  She can rent land and grow where ever she wants.  This is not something we want in Yolo County.  The laws need to be more clear.

    1. David Greenwald

      She is claiming that she has a right to do this by religion. But what her defense attorney argued in closing is that he disagrees with her there. Moreover and more importantly, she had a valid collective – she had the permits and paperwork filled out, her instructions in the bind were in compliance with the law, and that the lawbreaking was done by people who were operating in contradiction to her direction.

      1. Heidi Grossman

        I am not making anything up.  We are one of the 1,500+ federally recognized religions in the United States. Bless you all. 

        People of GUAM, Petitioner, v. Benny Toves GUERRERO, Respondent. No. 00-71247.    Decided: May 28, 2002. Rastafarian Wins Religious Defense.[noting that “Rastafarianism is a legitimate religion” and “marijuana use is sacramental in the practice of that religion”].)  Rastafarians believe ganja—their term for marij****—is the “tree of life” and translate Revelations 22:2 as “the herb is the healing of the nations.” 



    2. Dale Rostamo

      It’s clear that guns were used at this business. Cops were shot. Interstate trafficking was admitted. No federal charges resulted; 2 charges for Heidi none for Eddy, in state court, only. This stinks of Trumps federal police. Eddy wore a gps ankle bracelet care of his federal parole officer the whole time this occurred and the govt knew he was selling church marijuana franchises. 💩💲🐷👮🏼‍♀️👺   This is cointelpro two the Heddy Show 🐉

  2. Tia Will

    It is my understanding that this woman thinks that if she creates a religion….”

    I do not know enough about this case to begin to speculate on her intent. However, I think you touch on a bigger point which is clarity of the law as relates to religion. Rastafari has been recognized as a unique religion since the 1930’s. So she is not creating a new religion, just establishing a church in a new location. Our system of taxation allows organized religion of many types to accumulate huge wealth without paying taxes on it. Whether or not this is pertinent to this case, the practice of churches not paying taxes is nothing new and she would be doing nothing differently from what many mega churches do every day of their existence. I agree with you that the laws should be changed.

    1. Dale Rostamo

      Federal theater, it’s meant to make a mockery of cannabis culture and community. It’s a way for lawyer liars to make money. It’s a business. It’s cointelpro two the Heddy Fake Indian Church Marijuana Franchise Show 🐉

    2. David Greenwald

      First of all, she didn’t hire them per se. They weren’t employees. Second and more importantly, it doesn’t matter if she did. She’s charged with conspiracy. Conspiracy requires specific intent. That means she’s not “responsible” for anything, they have to show (and even prosecutor admitted this) that she was actively part of the conspiracy and they did not do that.

      1. Dale Rostamo

        Do better. Talk to the people who bought their church sacrament selling licenses who were arrested. Talk to the dead guys family. Talk to those who “tithed” to this interstate business posing as “church”. Explain all the guns confiscated at all the “farms” explain the hands off Eddy & Heidi federal coziness.  Please.  Ask ONAC leaders in Oregon. Please. They conspired they sold they were never charged federally on the contrary the Feds orchestrated the show, cointelpro two.

      2. Sharla Cheney

        David, You say she created a collective.  Collectives enabled people who needed marijuana for medical purposes to grow as a group for their own purposes.  This is not something you can then sell to others as some sort of quasi-religion.  She created a criminal enterprise to take advantage of grey areas in the laws and created havoc in communities.   There are now very legal ways to grow and sell marijuana.  She needs to take her cult and pack it up.

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s not quite what a cannabis collective is – it’s basically a non-profit organization that is comprised of growers who grow the product and patients, who are authorized to use the products.

        2. Tia Will


          I do not know this woman or any of the members of her collective or church. I have no idea how sincere any of them are, or are not, in their religious beliefs. But once more I am going to point out that Rastafari is an established religion, not a “quasi- religion” or “cult”. Although I am not a member and do not know anyone who is, I find your dismissive comments about a religion just as offensive as I would if you were referring to a protestant group, a Catholic, Jewish or Muslim congregation. Many such organizations use fundraising techniques including sales of items they make or grow.  I believe this conversation might be very different if we were discussing one of those efforts by a religious group with a longer history.

    3. Dale Rostamo

      This is much more complicated than the author has revealed. He appears to be an apologist for the Lepps, ignoring the obvious, the guns money the fake Indian church blessings for sale. Perhaps he will dig deeper instead of just deflecting. This is Trumps American Justice at work. The federal/state judicial coordination or lack thereof, is the starting point to understand this charade. Talk to actual victims, please.

      1. David Greenwald

        Except that from what I heard she wasn’t charged with “guns” or “gun money.” It never came up in the attorneys arguments – one either side. Part of the issue here is how narrowly the case was charged.

  3. Dale Rostamo

    Thank you for your efforts in this messy case, David Greenwald. I might have been just a tad harsh with you yesterday, for that I am sorry. However the subject is a sore spot, a boil on the face of the otherwise peaceful “marijuana” movement. ✌️

  4. Dale Rostamo

    It’s March 5, 2018, the era of Trump. His federal police dea/fbi/bop et al just ran a scam on America. Review the facts, nobody shoots cops, sells church’s, get a pass from the feds for everything, does millions of dollars worth of multi state trafficking (again admitted in court), and walks away.

    This was not the will of the jury, it was a STATE show trial, because the Feds declined to prosecute this obvious RICO case in Federal Court. 🐉

    Cointelpro Two: The Heddy Marijuana Church Cop Shooting Crew literally gets away with murder. 🤮

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