Alleged pot grower to stand trial

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

A 37-year-old Crystal River Valley man will stand trial on charges of growing and distributing marijuana, manufacturing marijuana concentrate and child abuse, a District Court judge decided Tuesday.

Richard Fanguy was arrested after Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies searched his home Aug. 27, located off Highway 133 between Carbondale and Redstone, and found 12.2 pounds of marijuana, more than 100 marijuana plants and equipment to turn marijuana into concentrate, sometimes called hashish.

The child abuse charges were included because deputies found evidence that Fanguy’s two young children had been at the home.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said it was the largest marijuana bust his department has made since he became sheriff in 2011. The Sheriff’s Office infrequently receives reports of grow operations and will often call the Drug Enforcement Administration for help in busting them, he said.

However, the grows are often too small for the DEA, and his office doesn’t have the resources or know-how to do drug interdictions, so they often don’t act on the information, DiSalvo said.

But in Fanguy’s case, DiSalvo said he made an exception because of the child welfare issue, public-safety issues related to using butane to produce the marijuana concentrate and the fact that his office received reports that the marijuana was being shipped out of state.

“These were circumstances I felt I couldn’t ignore,” DiSalvo said.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office investigator Bruce Benjamin testified for several hours about those circumstances during a preliminary hearing to determine whether probable cause existed to prosecute Fanguy.

Benjamin said when he searched the Highway 133 home and property, he found 12 marijuana plants growing in the backyard and 104 in a “sophisticated” grow operation in the basement. Approximately 80 of the basement plants already had been harvested and were merely stalks, he said.

“(Fanguy) said we busted him at the worst possible time,” Benjamin testified. “ He had just harvested all his plants, and they were ready to go.”

In addition, Benjamin and other deputies found “many, many” sheets of the marijuana concentrate “chocolate-like substance” dried on sheets of parchment or wax paper and vacuum sealed, he said. Benjamin estimated the concentrate weighed “a pound or two.”

The method Fanguy allegedly used to produce the concentrate involved butane and was “very dangerous,” Benjamin said.

That process involves using a metal cylinder called an “extractor,” he said. The marijuana goes into the extractor, then the butane is bled into the device and it produces a “syrupy substance,” Benjamin said.

After that, the substance must be heated up to burn off the butane, he said. Finally, it is spread out on sheets to dry.

The process can produce fires and explosions, which produced “big tragedies” recently in Colorado, Benjamin said. In fact, the investigator went so far as to consult a bomb squad technician in Grand Junction to determine the safest way to conduct the search of Fanguy’s property, he said.

The marijuana concentrate-making equipment was found in a shed behind the home, which didn’t have a lock and could have been accessed by children, Benjamin said.

Fanguy adamantly told Benjamin he never sells to anyone locally, he said.

An informant told Benjamin that Fanguy sold the product to a man named “Reed” from Louisiana, Benjamin testified. The informant said Fanguy reported making $30,000 a year from his grow operation, he said.

During the search, Benjamin also observed a child’s playset in the home’s front yard as well as a bedroom that looked as though it belonged to a girl, he said. In addition, he noticed a calendar in the kitchen that showed dates Fanguy’s five-year-old daughter had visited.

Fanguy’s lawyer, Lauren Maytin, told District Judge Chris Seldin there was no evidence her client manufactured the concentrate, grew the marijuana plants or distributed the finished product to anyone. The amount that was seized by deputies was for personal use, Maytin said.

In addition, Maytin said there was no evidence to suggest that either Fanguy’s five-year-old daughter or then-11-month-old son were present during the manufacture of any controlled substance.

Seldin, however, disagreed and found that probable cause existed to allow Fanguy to stand trial.

Fanguy is charged with processing or manufacturing marijuana or marijuana concentrate, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to manufacture or distribute marijuana, cultivation of marijuana and two counts of child abuse.