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Highlands Ranch defendant in marijuana-growing case changes mind, will fight federal charges
    #403227 - 04/17/10 05:10 PM (10 years, 10 months ago)

Highlands Ranch defendant in marijuana-growing case changes mind, will fight federal charges

Posted: 04/17/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 04/17/2010 01:37:10 AM MDT

Chris Bartkowicz may face five to 40 years in prison if convicted.
A man charged with operating a large marijuana-growing operation in his Highlands Ranch basement abruptly reversed course Friday and said he intends to fight the charges.

Chris Bartkowicz had been scheduled to sign off on a plea agreement with prosecutors Friday during a "change of plea" hearing in federal court. Instead, Bartkowicz's attorney told federal District Court Judge Philip Brimmer that Bartkowicz has decided he wants to argue his case at trial.

The next step is for the U.S. attorney's office to formally indict Bartkowicz, which the prosecutor in the case called "very likely."

"My client informs me that, in the event he is indicted, he intends to proceed to trial," Bartkowicz's attorney, Joseph Saint-Veltri,

    * Read the complaint against Chris Bartkowicz. (PDF, 8 pages)


Bartkowicz declined to comment after the hearing, except to say he had been mulling the decision for some time. Saint-Veltri declined to discuss what type of defense he would mount for Bartkowicz.

The move carries considerable risk for Bart kowicz.

Though he says all of the marijuana he grew was provided either directly to medical-marijuana patients or to legal dispensaries, state medical-marijuana law may provide little to no shield for him in federal court. Defendants in similar cases in other states have been barred from using compliance with state laws as a defense in federal court. All marijuana cultivation and distribution is illegal under federal law, regardless of the drug's intended use.

Bartkowicz also has prior felony drug convictions in state court, which would serve as sentence-enhancers if he were convicted in federal court, U.S. attorney's spokesman Jeff Dorschner said. The charge Bartkowicz is facing already carries a minimum five-year prison sentence and a maximum 40-year sentence.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested Bartkowicz in February after he showed his growing operation to a reporter from 9News, which posted a story about it on its website. Jeffrey Sweetin, the head of the Denver DEA office, said federal agents targeted Bartkowicz because they believed he was growing more marijuana than allowed by state law — in excess of 200 plants, when he had documentation that he was the caregiver for only a handful of patients — and because he had prior convictions and was operating near a school.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068 or jingold@denverpost.com


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