Long-standing Michigan Forfeiture Case Seeks Closure through Supreme Court

Published 3 days ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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In a notable legal revival, a civil asset forfeiture case dating back to 2008 has resurfaced, with implications that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The case began following a drug raid on a Shiawassee County farmhouse, leading to the arrest and eventual imprisonment of Steven Ostipow for operating a cannabis grow site. In the course of the raid, property belonging to his parents, Gerald and Royetta Ostipow, was seized by the Saginaw County Sheriff's Department and never returned.

Despite the absence of legal justification for retaining the seized assets, including the farmhouse and a 1965 Chevy Nova, numerous appeals have failed to secure the return of the Ostipows' property. The legal battle has spanned several administrations, starting when Charlie Brown was sheriff of Saginaw County and continuing under the current sheriff, Bill Federspiel. The lengthy dispute has profoundly impacted the Ostipow family, leading attorney Phil Ellison to escalate the matter to the nation's highest court.

Ellison has formally petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to address gaps in Michigan's laws regarding civil asset forfeiture. The existing legal framework lacks a mechanism to compel local authorities to return seized assets when no legal ground justifies their retention. "The sheriff was found not to have any right to keep the property, but there is no mechanism in Michigan law that can force, to have a state court require the sheriff to give the property back," Ellison explained.

This case highlights broader issues with civil asset forfeiture laws, often criticized for allowing law enforcement agencies to retain property without sufficient legal basis, sometimes resulting in significant personal losses for individuals involved. The outcomes of previous appeals in favor of the Ostipows have yet to result in the restitution of their assets, underscoring systemic challenges within the legal system.

Sheriff Federspiel has expressed respect for the legal process, stating he will allow the Supreme Court proceedings to unfold before making further comments. Meanwhile, Ellison remains committed to pursuing justice for the Ostipow family, emphasizing the potential to curtail what he views as government abuse through a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court.

Michigan Township Seeks Dismissal of Cannabis Dispensary Lawsuit

Published 4 days ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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A Michigan township is currently seeking to have a federal court dismiss a lawsuit brought by a group of cannabis entrepreneurs and local developers, who allege that town officials have obstructed their efforts to establish a cannabis dispensary. The township argues that the federal court lacks the necessary jurisdiction to hear the case.

The lawsuit, initiated by the group Citizens of Lima for Cannabis in March, accuses the township's board of trustees of engaging in a prolonged effort to prevent the opening of a dispensary, despite apparent support from a majority of Lima residents. According to the complaint, this obstruction has resulted in the loss of potential tax revenues estimated between $28,000 and $59,000, based on the financial experiences of other Michigan towns since 2021.

In their motion to dismiss, the township's trustees contend that the lawsuit primarily cites violations of state law, rather than federal law, thus falling outside the purview of federal jurisdiction. They argue that of the three claims presented—violation of a writ of mandamus, civil conspiracy, and a due process violation—only the due process claim tangentially references federal law. This claim involves the trustees’ refusal to place an initiative on the 2023 ballot, allegedly rejecting signatures on the grounds that they were collected on the incorrect size of paper. However, the complaint frames this as a violation of the Michigan Constitution, not as a breach of the Fourteenth Amendment or under 42 USC Section 1983, which deals with civil rights violations.

The trustees further state that the lawsuit does not assert diversity of jurisdiction—a condition that could have allowed for federal oversight if the plaintiffs were from different states than the municipality.

Given these arguments, the township asserts that the federal court should dismiss the case as it lacks the requisite subject matter jurisdiction to proceed. The court's decision on this matter is pending.

Community Tips Lead to Raid on Oakfield Vape and Cannabis Shop

Published 5 days ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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In Oakfield Township, Michigan, a local business named Nature's Edge, previously operating as Greenville Hydroponics, has come under scrutiny for allegedly selling nicotine and cannabis products to minors. Following community complaints and subsequent investigations by the Kent County Sheriff's Office (KCSO), the business was raided, resulting in significant seizures.

The Kent Area Narcotics Enforcement Team executed three search warrants at Nature's Edge last month. The raid yielded 3,200 grams of cannabis, 4,100 nicotine vape pens, two handguns, and $39,500 in cash. This operation stemmed from ongoing concerns within the community about the accessibility of restricted products to underage individuals.

The suspicions were initially confirmed in May 2023 when a KCSO decoy, posing as a minor, successfully purchased a nicotine vape pen from the establishment. This incident led to the business receiving a citation for selling to an underage customer.

Further investigations were propelled by reports from a school resource officer who received information about the business allegedly selling cannabis to local students. This tip prompted a more detailed investigation by the narcotics team, culminating in last month's raids.

The Kent County Sheriff's Office has expressed gratitude towards the community for its vigilance and cooperation, emphasizing the importance of community involvement in maintaining public safety. The investigation into the alleged sales of nicotine and cannabis to minors is still active, with the authorities seeking to determine the full extent of the violations and enforce appropriate legal actions.

No Early Release for Rick Johnson in Michigan Cannabis Licensing Scandal

Published 5 days ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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Former Michigan House Speaker Rick Johnson will continue serving his 55-month prison sentence without any reduction or early release, as ruled by U.S. District Judge Jane Beckering. Johnson, who was implicated in a major public corruption scandal involving the state's cannabis industry, sought to have his sentence shortened based on changes to federal sentencing guidelines. However, the judge determined that Johnson had already benefited from these guidelines at the time of his sentencing and did not merit further leniency.

Johnson, a 71-year-old Republican from LeRoy, has been incarcerated at a minimum-security federal prison camp in Duluth, Minnesota, since December. He requested that his sentence be reduced to 41 months, with the remainder to be served under home confinement starting in March 2025. This plea was denied, with Judge Beckering emphasizing that the relief Johnson sought was already granted when he was initially sentenced.

This case stems from Johnson's tenure as chairman of the state's medical marijuana licensing board from May 2017 to April 2019. During this period, Johnson accepted over $110,000 in bribes from cannabis industry lobbyists and a businessman, seeking to influence the licensing process in favor of certain businesses. His corrupt practices, which Judge Beckering described as an "unfettered abuse of power," involved taking cash payments, enjoying complimentary meals, and engaging in illicit activities, including liaisons with a sex worker.

The scandal represents one of the largest instances of public corruption in Michigan's capital in the last 30 years. In addition to Johnson, other key figures involved received prison sentences: businessman John Dawood Dalaly received 28 months, while lobbyists Brian Pierce and Vince Brown were sentenced to two years and 20 months, respectively.

Johnson's projected release date remains September 2027, maintaining the original terms of his sentence.

Two Michigan Men Arrested with Cannabis in West Virginia Traffic Stop

Published 1 week ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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Two individuals from Michigan were apprehended in Morgantown, West Virginia, following the discovery of illegal substances in their vehicle during a nighttime traffic stop. This incident underscores not only the ongoing issues of drug transportation across state lines but also highlights the likely Michigan origin of the cannabis found.

The event unfolded in the early hours of April 8th, when Deputy Noah Thompson of Monongalia County noticed a Chrysler minivan, bearing Pennsylvania license plates, navigating Chestnut Street without its taillights activated. Upon halting the vehicle around 12:30 a.m., Deputy Thompson identified the occupants as Quantrez Gibson, 26, from Sterling Heights, Michigan, and Deante B. Hurt, 27, from Detroit, Michigan.

Further investigation led to a probable cause search of the minivan, which unearthed more than 40 oxycodone pills alongside over 30 packages of cannabis. Given Michigan's status as a state with legalized cannabis, the origin of the cannabis seized is believed to likely be Michigan, pointing to a cross-state transportation attempt.

In addition to the drugs, Gibson and Hurt were found in possession of $1,600, primarily in $20 and $100 denominations, and several cell phones, hinting at the broader scope of their activities.

Deante B. Hurt is no stranger to the legal system in Monongalia County, having faced multiple arrests previously. Notably, in September 2023, he was indicted by a grand jury on charges including device fraud, grand larceny, and conspiracy. Subsequent charges against him in December 2023 and March 2024 related to possession with intent and conspiracy to deliver controlled substances, from which he was released upon posting substantial bonds totaling $200,000.

Following their latest encounter with the law, both Gibson and Hurt were arraigned in Monongalia County Magistrate Court, securing their release on $50,000 bonds each. They are slated for preliminary hearings on April 18th, as the legal process continues to unfold.

Michigan Woman Arrested for Attempting to Smuggle Cannabis from Boston to London

Published 2 weeks ago Legal & Crime Ryan Spegal
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In a striking incident at Boston Logan International Airport, a woman from Michigan found herself embroiled in a legal quandary following her attempt to smuggle a substantial amount of cannabis to London. Nalexus Palmer, 28, was arrested and held on bail after Massachusetts State Police intercepted her with 74 pounds of vacuum-sealed cannabis, valued at nearly $400,000, intended for illicit distribution in the U.K.

Palmer, who had traveled from Detroit to Boston with the goal of flying to London, faced charges for trafficking cannabis weighing between 50 and 100 pounds. The arrest took place on a Saturday night, shortly after U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents flagged the suspicious cargo. Embedded within two large suitcases filled with the drug were Apple AirTags, presumably used to track the shipment's journey across borders.

The narrative unfolded as Palmer claimed ignorance of the suitcase's contents, alleging that an unidentified woman had delivered them to her, following arrangements made by an unnamed man. This individual, whom Palmer stated she had met four years prior in Atlanta, reportedly facilitated monetary transactions through Zelle and Cash App for unspecified purposes, promising further compensation upon her arrival in London.

This incident underscores the stark legal contrasts in cannabis regulation between jurisdictions. While possession of cannabis is legal in both Michigan and Massachusetts, its trafficking, especially across international borders, remains strictly prohibited. Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden emphasized this distinction, warning against the significant risks involved in transporting large quantities of cannabis across state and international lines.

The court has since set Palmer's bail at $3,000, imposing conditions that include the surrender of her passport and a restriction from entering Logan Airport unless for legitimate travel. A scheduled probable cause hearing on May 24th awaits further developments in this case.

This case vividly illustrates the ongoing challenges and complexities surrounding cannabis laws, highlighting the severe consequences of trafficking attempts. Despite varying degrees of legalization within the United States, the international transportation of cannabis continues to be met with stringent enforcement and severe penalties.