John Smith’s Pot-Selling Conviction Brings $42,000 Cash Forfeiture
The former owner of TJ’s Sports Bar agrees to pay $42,000 in cash as part of a guilty plea that brings probation, avoids jail time and lets him keep his Bridge Street home.
By DAVID REID
NORTHAMPTON – John Smith, arrested last October for having 30 pounds of marijuana in his home here, has agreed to the forfeiture of $42,000 in cash to be paid over the next four months, Northampton Media has learned.
The forfeiture deal follows a Jan. 20 hearing in Northampton District Court, where Smith pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Judge Michael Mulcahy approved a plea agreement and handed Smith three years of unsupervised probation and a $50-a-month fee.
Citing Smith’s cooperation with police and the fact that no drugs were dealt out of his home, prosecutors shelved a charge of possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school (Bridge Street Elementary School), where a conviction would bring a minimum two-year jail sentence. If Smith violates probation, however, that charge will be reinstated, prosecutors said.
The sentencing deal was worked out between defense lawyer W. Michael Ryan and Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci.
At the time of Smith’s arrest, detectives – who had been alerted by a damaged, 5-pound package of marijuana mailed from a California source to Smith’s home at 137 Bridge St. – seized 30 pounds of pot at the house, as well as digital scales, packaging materials and bank records. They also confiscated $3,385 in cash Smith had in his pants pockets. (To see our detailed story on the bust and the Jan. 20 hearing, click here.)
The Forfeiture Agreement
State drug forfeiture laws would have allowed the Northwestern District Attorney’s office to pursue seizing Smith’s entire house and selling it, using the proceeds to fund future drug investigations.
But that’s not the deal the lawyers worked out.
Smith’s home is valued at over $300,000, but he had taken out a home equity loan, which left only about $126,000 in equity.
According to Bucci, the DA’s office decided that, because only the basement floor of the three-story home was used for the drug business, it would seek forfeiture of only one-third of the equity, or about $42,000. Besides, he said, the office wants to avoid being in the real estate business.
The forfeiture agreement that was inked late last month requires Smith to pay off the $42,000 in four equal monthly payments to be made by certified check, Bucci said. A default of the payments, he said, would trigger a forfeiture action against the entire property.
Defense lawyer Ryan tried to put his client’s situation, and the forfeiture, into perspective.
“I would not label the penalty unfair, but it’s certainly severe,” Ryan told Northampton Media today. “The problem is the law, a remnant of the war on drugs. which treats marijuana and heroin equally. It needs revision to reflect our present understanding that marijuana is relatively beneign.”
Smith, who founded Jake’s restaurant on King Street and owned TJ’s bar at 1 Bridge St., runs Birdstone Antiques at 25 Market St. He also owns two mixed-use building at 9 Market St., county records show.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org