Big Island Marijuana 'Ministry' Operator Pleads Guilty to Drug and Tax Offenses
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 27, 2013|
HONOLULU—Defendants Roger Cusick Christie (age: 64) and Sherryanne L. Christie (age: 62), husband and wife, pled guilty today in U.S. District Court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi to marijuana trafficking and tax offenses. Roger Christie pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 100 or more marijuana plants; and two separate tax counts for failure to file federal income tax returns for calendar years 2008 and 2009. Sherryanne Christie pled guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, involving 50 or more marijuana plants. Their sentencings have been set on January 22 (Roger Christie) and January 27, 2014 (Shierryanne Christie), before United States District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi.
Florence T. Nakakuni, United States Attorney for the District of Hawaii, said, “This prosecution demonstrated the effectiveness of cooperative efforts among federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities in addressing persistent, significant illegal drug trafficking activity.” According to information produced to the court:
From at least about 2000 up through July 8, 2010, the Christies operated the THC Cannabis Ministry in Hilo, Hawaii. In 2008, an undercover law enforcement officer was introduced to Roger Christie, and on three separate occasions at the ministry, Christie sold quantities of marijuana to him (the largest being one-half pound).
Thereafter, a court-authorized wiretap on three telephone lines used by Roger Christie from April to July 2009 resulted in the interception and recording of numerous telephone conversations involving Roger and Sherryanne Christie, ministry employees, and other persons. In 2009, the ministry was open three days a week from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. During this three-hour period, there were up to 70 customers served, and the Christies sold over one-half pound of marijuana “sacrament,” making about $1,000 or more in profit. They estimated that about 90 percent of the customers were ministry members, while the remaining 10 percent had state medical marijuana cards. In order to join the ministry, prospective members were supposed to sit through an orientation session with Roger Christie. However, Roger Christie said he scheduled membership sessions with passengers on visiting cruise ships who were in Hilo for one day, and one could also join by ordering a ministry “sanctuary kit” by mail for a $250 donation.
The Christies instituted an “express” procedure in early 2009, which made it unnecessary for prospective members to meet with the Christies or to receive any spiritual blessing/advice from them in order to receive their marijuana sacrament. Rather, as long as the customer could pay the full amount of the “donation” price and had someone’s membership card or state medical marijuana card, that person could acquire sacrament. There were “suggested donation” prices such as $50 for one-eighth ounce, $100 for one-quarter ounce, and $400 for one ounce. When one customer complained during an intercepted call that the quoted donation price of $400 an ounce was rather high, Roger Christie justified this amount, stating, “It’s retail" and “Normal retail. You know, we buy it, you know, at forty-five hundred, five grand a pound, so....” On July 8, 2010, both Christies and 12 other defendants were arrested in this case. As a result of Roger Christie’s arrest and his ensuing court-ordered pretrial detention without bond, the ministry was effectively shut down in Hilo, and it has not re-opened since that time. Both Christies admitted in their respective plea agreements to being leaders and organizers of the charged marijuana trafficking activities.
At the time of sentencing, Roger Christie faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment on the marijuana charge, with a mandatory minimum term of five years. The maximum term of imprisonment on each tax offense is one year. Sherryanne Christie can receive up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Christies also agreed to forfeit to the United States $21,494 in U.S. currency (proceeds from their marijuana distribution activities) and a condominium apartment in Hilo owned by Roger Christie (which was used to facilitate their marijuana trafficking activities).
Under the terms of the plea agreement, both Christies have reserved their right to seek appellate review of the District Court’s denial of four pretrial motions, including one asking the court to find that enforcement of marijuana trafficking laws against them constituted a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). District Judge Kobayashi denied all four of the Christies' pretrial motions, ruling that enforcement of federal marijuana trafficking laws against the Christies was not a violation of RFRA. The court ordered Roger Christie’s continued detention pending sentencing; Sherryanne Christie remained released on bond.
The prosecution resulted from the combined efforts from 2008-2010 of the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations; Homeland Security Investigations; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the U.S. Marshals Service; the National Park Service; the Sheriff’s Office, Department of Public Safety; the Hawaii Police Department; and the Honolulu Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael K. Kawahara.