Christopher Bartkowicz, a Highlands Ranch man who ran a medical-marijuana-growing operation from the basement of his home, was sentenced this morning to five years in federal prison.
Bartkowicz pleaded guilty in October to federal drug charges in connection with the operation, which Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided after Bartkowicz showed the grow operation to 9News. In a plea agreement, Bartkowicz and federal prosecutors settled on a prison term of five years, and federal District Court Judge Philip Brimmer chose to accept that deal. His release will be followed by eight years of supervision.
“Five years is a long time,” Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez said during the sentencing hearing. “… It’s going to allow him time to get treatment and it’s going to give him time to reflect on what brought him here today.”
Bartkowicz will be the first person in Colorado to serve federal prison time for actions he says were legal under Colorado’s medical-marijuana law. Agents seized more than 100 plants from Bartkowicz’s house. Bartkowicz said he was a medical-marijuana caregiver to several patients and sold the rest to legal dispensaries.
“This all seems like a script written by Lewis Carroll,” Bartkowicz’s attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri, said during the hearing in reference to the “Alice in Wonderland” author.
“Hundreds of (marijuana) plants,” Saint-Veltri added later, “are being cultivated within a mile radius of this building as we speak, and they will continue to be cultivated … because the people of Colorado want that to happen.”
Federal authorities have said they targeted Bartkowicz because they say he grew more plants than Colorado law allowed, because he had prior state-level drug convictions and because his operation was about two blocks from a school. Brimmer, in handing down the sentence, echoed those concerns.
He said Bartkowicz “miserably failed” to follow Colorado law because of the number of plants he had and because he never met many of the patients who used his marijuana. That, Brimmer said, means the case is not an example of the federal government oppressively interfering with state law but rather fits with Bartkowicz’s prior marijuana convictions.
“He’s choosing to violate state law again, and he’s cultivating marijuana,” Brimmer said.
Bartkowicz lost a bid to be able to use a medical defense in his federal court case. Because all marijuana cultivation is illegal under federal law, that left him with few options but to strike a deal with prosecutors. Because of his prior convictions, Bartkowicz potentially faced a life sentence under the initial charges against him.
“It’s the best that Mr. Bartkowicz can hope to achieve under these circumstances,” Saint-Veltri said of the plea deal.
Outside the federal courthouse before the hearing began, about 20 medical-marijuana activists gathered to protest the sentencing. They held signs bearing messages such as, “Cannabis is not criminal.” They said the DEA sought to make an example out of Bartkowicz in retaliation for the 9News interview.
The protest was organized by Lannette Johnson, the leader of a local chapter of Moms for Marijuana who said she befriended Bartkowicz following his arrest. Johnson said Bartkowicz was nervous about the sentencing and worried about which prison he would be sent to. Brimmer recommended Bartkowicz be housed at a federal prison in Colorado.
“I think what happened to Chris is a huge injustice,” Johnson said. “Chris is a DEA scapegoat.”
When given the chance, Bartkowicz did not attempt to sway Brimmer directly during the sentencing hearing, saying he had nothing prepared.
“I would actually decline to make any comments to the court,” he said.
When the hearing concluded, Bartkowicz — who was wearing a lemon-yellow prisoner’s jumpsuit, with both his hair and beard grown shaggier than at earlier hearings — put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed. He looked into the audience, where a number of friends and activists gathered for support. He half-way smiled and briefly arched his eyebrows in passive resignation.
Then the U.S. marshal took hold of his arm, and Bartkowicz disappeared behind a closed door.
– Article from Denver Post.