An emotional Andre Arthur Lempriere and the U.S. attorney seeking to make an example of him agreed on at least one thing Friday — hash oil extraction is dangerous.
In a plea agreement, the 51-year-old Lempriere admitted to growing marijuana and extracting hash oil in a building owned by Puyallup’s deputy mayor last year.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton sentenced Lempriere to three years in prison, a year longer than his attorney recommended.
Before the judge’s decision, a tearful Lempriere said he was not a dangerous drug dealer, but rather an advocate for safe production of medical marijuana products that help people.
“We’re not gangsters,” he said of his operation.
He also disagreed with U.S. attorneys that his operation was unsafe.
“We were proponents of doing it the right way,” he said.
Lempriere, a British citizen living in the United States illegally, originally was charged with six felonies in Pierce County Superior Court before the case was transferred to U.S. District Court.
Among charges listed in the federal indictment were endangering human life while manufacturing a controlled substance, alien in possession of firearms, maintaining a drug involved premises, and manufacturing hash oil and marijuana.
In June, Lempriere accepted a plea agreement that dismissed the latter drug charges.
Puyallup police and sheriff’s deputies raided Lempriere’s marijuana operation in October 2014. They searched several locations, including a warehouse owned by Puyallup Deputy Mayor John Hopkins.
Hopkins said at the time he would welcome a legal pot operation on his property. He said he didn’t know how his leased commercial building was being used.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said Friday she couldn’t confirm or deny whether Hopkins was the subject of a federal investigation related to the case.
Much of Lempriere’s sentencing hearing centered on his possession of about a dozen weapons, recovered from his home, that, on Friday, he compared to a stamp collection.
His three-year sentence was lower than the U.S. attorney’s recommended 60-month sentence; he’ll get credit for time served since his arrest Oct. 29, 2014.
Defense attorney William Michelman said his client is a good man who is highly regarded by family members, who were in court Friday.
He stressed Lempriere had been taking proper steps to participate in Washington’s legal marijuana industry.
“Throughout this process Mr. Lempriere attempted to comply with the law,” Michelman said. “Even though he may not have done it perfectly, I think Mr. Lempriere was an advocate for safety in that process.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vince Lombardi said there must be consequences for people involved with illegal hash-oil operations, given explosions that occur at some of those sites.
One happened in Puyallup several months before Lempriere’s arrest.
“What Mr. Lempriere was doing was wholly illegal,” Lombardi said, noting that taking part in the state licensing process is moot. “It’s all illegal under federal law.”
Lempriere said his medical struggles and his father-in-law’s battle with cancer inspired him to pursue medical marijuana production.
“We were both in a lot of pain,” he told the judge. “I don’t like narcotics. Marijuana helped me greatly. We got into it because we both believed it makes a difference for people.”
Leighton said he would not denigrate Lempriere’s views on medicinal marijuana, but stressed the seriousness of his crimes.
The judge noted he tries to differentiate between bad and stupid people.
“You have been stupid more than once,” he told Lempriere, “and that weighs on me.”