Thursday, July 25, 2002

Spokane

Five arraigned in South Hill marijuana case
All in 50s and 60s; 4 have high-profile attorneys

Bill Morlin
Staff writer

The five friends stood together, dressed like they might be at a South Hill coffee bar or a country club.

But this day they were standing in front of a federal judge, accused of scheming to make millions by growing marijuana in lavish South Hill homes.

A bank teller who smelled marijuana on cash deposits provided the tip that started the investigation in February, leading to arrests in late June.

Attorneys for the five say they know the South Hill pot case is causing a buzz.

"If it weren't for the penalties involved, this would be the stuff TV sitcoms are made of," said defense attorney Pat Stiley.

Two defendants -- business partners Kathleen Jenny, 58, and Virginia "Ginger" Erickson, 59 -- are also accused of conspiracy to launder money.

They are accused of depositing their drug profits in the bank account of an interior decorating company, EJ Designs, they allegedly formed as a front.

Their husbands, Jack Erickson, 66, and Francis "Burly" Jenny, 64, are charged with their wives with conspiracy to manufacture more than 1,000 marijuana plants.

A fifth defendant, Gregory A. Montgomery, 54, is charged with conspiracy to grow more than 1,000 pot plants. Because of previous convictions, Montgomery faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted.

The marijuana-growing charge carries a minimum term of 10 years in prison.

A federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment Tuesday, and the five were arraigned together Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

Besides the conspiracy and manufacturing counts, a third count seeks forfeiture of seven houses in Spokane and an eighth in Lewiston, worth a combined assessed value approaching $2.5 million.

In the indictment, the government also seeks forfeiture of $1,125,000 in cash, a 2001 Dodge Ram pickup and a 2002 Jeep Cherokee.

Other personal items also were seized for forfeiture in state court by the Spokane Police Department.

All five defendants are free on bonds set after their arrests in late June.

Jack Erickson was granted his request for a court-appointed attorney, and was represented by Federal Defender Tina Hunt.

The other four defendants showed up with well-known criminal defense attorneys.

Seattle attorney Jeff Steinborn, who specializes in criminal defense work in marijuana cases, has been hired to represent Kathleen Jenny.

She had no comment and attempted to duck a news photographer outside the courthouse. The other defendants also declined comment.

Stiley, a well-known Spokane attorney who now lives in Belize and returns to the Northwest in the summer, has been hired by Francis Jenny.

Frank Conklin, a Gonzaga Law School instructor and noted constitutional expert, has been hired by Ginger Erickson.

"Obviously, there is a lot of interest in this case," Conklin said.

He couldn't predict the eventual outcome, probably months away. "I don't know enough about the details to make a statement."

Carl Oreskovich, who has handled several high-profile criminal defendants, represents Montgomery.

"Yeah, it's a high-profile case," Oreskovich said. "It's hard to know what will happen. I anticipate you'll see a number of pretrial motions for suppression of evidence."

Stiley said the forfeiture counts, listing regular bank deposits from 1998 through mid-June, show the naivete of the defendants.

"Look at these people," Stiley said. "They shouldn't be involved in this kind of case."

"You've got two naive, ill-informed, middle-aged women with no criminal records, charged with traipsing merrily along in life as if there were no tomorrow," Stiley said.

"The amount of money involved, I believe, is a tribute to our so-called `war on drugs,"' he said.

"I also think this case suggests a diversion of law enforcement resources that borders on the criminal itself."

Stiley said his client, "Burly" Jenny, is a farmer and grandfather with medical problems. He has had two heart attacks and suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease.

Steinborn said the Jennys, who own a farm near Moses Lake, have been married 39 years. He told his client not to make any comments.

But Steinborn, a longstanding critic of marijuana laws, directed sarcasm at the case.

"Every 37 minutes, a child is kidnapped," he said. "Corporations are out of control, robbing old people of their retirements.

"Here, the federal government is wasting time and money, trying to keep us from the giggles and munchies.

"If that's not a misallocation of our resources, I've never seen one," Steinborn said.

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or by e-mail at billm@spokesman.com.


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