Illegal pot grow operator sentenced to community service

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SOAP LAKE — A Kennewick man will be doing almost 250 hours of community service for having an illegal marijuana growing operation on his property in rural Soap Lake.

Rafael Chavez-Fernandez, 59, of Kennewick, pleaded guilty in Grant County Superior Court to manufacture of marijuana-solicitation. Chavez-Hernandez was sentenced to a total of 364 days in jail, with 334 days suspended for two years. The remaining 30 days of jail confinement was converted to 240 hours of community service to be served at a rate of 30 hours a month. Court documents state the community service can be completed outside of Grant County at an approved location.

On Sept. 21 Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (INET) members and other local officers executed a search warrant at a suspected illegal marijuana growing operation at an “extremely rural” location near Soap Lake, according to court documents.

As detectives were gaining entry to the property a man, later identified as Chavez-Fernandez, entered a pickup and attempted to leave. Chavez-Fernandez was detained before he could flee however. Detectives reportedly recovered 90 4-foot-tall, 3-foot-in-diameter marijuana plants inside a fenced off area at the property.

Detectives were able to recover 10 recommendations for medical marijuana at the property, but none of the paperwork listed the rural Soap Lake address. The recommendations instead listed locations outside of Grant County. After checking, detectives discovered the location was not a registered “marijuana cooperative.” Marijuana cooperatives allow up to four medical marijuana patients to team up and grow marijuana for personal use, according to the state Department of Health.

Chavez-Fernandez initially claimed he was only a worker at the property, but he later came clean and admitted that although he was not the owner of the property, his wife is the registered owner. Chavez-Fernandez said he and his wife bought the property initially to raise goats. He went on to state he only knew one of the 10 people with medical marijuana recommendations at his property.

“Chavez-Fernandez stated he did not intend on benefiting from the proceeds or finished product of the marijuana grow and was only allowing it to happen because he was fortunate in his life and was being nice,” wrote a detective.

Richard Byrd can be reached via email at city@columbiabasinherald.com

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