Five of the six workers caught in the second-largest marijuana grow-op bust ever made by Chilliwack RCMP were sentenced to 12 months house arrest by a provincial court judge last Monday.
One of the six received a longer, 18-month conditional sentence, because of an earlier marijuana conviction.
Judge Jill Rounthwaite said conditional sentences are considered a “slap on the wrist” by the public, but she called these “significant” in their terms and in the possibility of going to jail, if the conditions are breached.
The terms include a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, 25 hours of community service work, and a ban on possessing high-intensity light bulbs or other marijuana grow equipment.
The judge also took into consideration the guilty pleas entered by the six, which saved the court the costs of a trial, and their low-level status in the grow operation.
The owner of the grow-op has never been found.
Some of the accused claimed they were paid $10 an hour to clip and water the 4,776 marijuana plants that police found in two out-buildings of the Nixon Road property on Sept. 10, 2009.
Police estimate the owner of the grow-op was making $1.8 million every three months.
Police investigators basically stumbled upon the grow-op while investigating an even larger, more sophisticated, underground bunker-style operation next door where 11,500 marijuana plants were found.
The owner of that grow-op, valued by police at over $3-million, has also never been found. A 61-year-old man was arrested at the site, however, and was charged with production of marijuana for trafficking purposes.
Crown counsel had asked for one-year jail terms for each of the six accused, even though most had no previous criminal record.
Defence counsel for the six, all of whom are originally from Quebec but now live in Sunshine Coast communities, said at an earlier sentencing hearing that their clients were “lured” into the operation by their need for money.
One of the accused told police he needed extra money to pay for his house, while another said he needed money for a custom sauna business he had started.
One of the accused said it was his first time clipping marijuana, while another said he made a living by working at marijuana operations.
All but one said they had no idea who owned the grow operation.
Claudette Montinimy, 53, told police she was given free rent to live in the main house as its “caretaker” and to give the appearance of normality, but she was “not willing” to identify the owner of the grow-op.
The five others sentenced are: Regis J. Bilodeau, 53; Robert J.H. Fontaine, 50; Albert J. Gery, 71; Raymond J. Lavoie, 50; and Lyse M. Leclerc, 51, Montinimy’s sister.
Crown counsel John Walker argued at an earlier court hearing for 12-month jail terms for each, saying without their tending the marijuana, the grow-op couldn’t work.
“It’s not my position that any of the six are the ultimate benefactors of the property,” he said. “But nevertheless, they are essential to the criminality in a similar way that drug couriers are essential to moving product. If there weren’t people like that … grow-ops would not occur.”