Pot grower gets five years in jail

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

A Valley Springs man convicted on gun and drug charges was sentenced to five years and eight months in county jail Thursday in the Calaveras County Superior Court.

Edward Pereira, 38, pleaded guilty in April to charges of possession of marijuana packaged for sale, cultivation of marijuana, illegal possession of an assault rifle and two counts of receiving stolen property.

Pereira almost withdrew his plea leading up to Thursday's hearing. Visiting El Dorado County Judge Thomas Smith said at the outset that he had discussed that possibility in his chambers with Pereira's attorney, Mary Ann Bird.

Bird told the judge Pereira "indicates he wanted to proceed today without the appointment of independent counsel" to grant him a second opinion as to whether or not to accept the plea deal.

As part of a "package" plea agreement, Pereira's wife, Alicia, and son, Andrew Adams, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of more than an ounce of marijuana. Charges including criminal conspiracy and cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale against Alicia Pereira and Andrew Adams were dropped. Both were found eligible for a deferred entry of judgment, meaning the convictions could be erased in 18 months if a probation program is successfully completed.

However, charges would be reinstated against both if Edward Pereira pulled back from the deal.

The charges are related to an undercover narcotics operation that found more than 1,700 marijuana plants at the Pereiras' McCauley Drive home and another on Chile Camp Road in Campo Seco where his cousin, Eric Nelson lived.

Nelson has pleaded guilty to marijuana cultivation in connection with the case and was sentenced June 4 to a three-year suspended jail sentence after serving 113 days in jail and is now on probation.

Smith said an 18-page letter written by Pereira "makes it sound like you thought you were coerced" into accepting the plea deal and that he would entertain a motion to withdraw the plea and appoint independent counsel to review the agreement.

"I met with my client this afternoon … and we did discuss a motion to withdraw the plea," Bird said. "There was an indication that he felt uncomfortable but that he wanted to proceed. I am satisfied if the court is satisfied."

The plea deal is a unified agreement with the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, which also prosecuted Pereira for possession of marijuana for sale. He will serve no time in relation to that case but pleaded guilty.

Bird asked the judge to consider permitting Pereira to serve at least part of his sentence on electronic monitoring or community-supervised release, noting he has extensive family ties in the county, and a "minimal record" of three prior misdemeanor convictions.

"He is not a threat to this county and we wants to become a productive member of this community again," she said.

Deputy District Attorney Dana Pfeil adamantly opposed that stance.

"He really should have thought about that before he decided to get most of his family in a drug-growing operation," Pfeil said.

She added that the plea deal was explicit about no use of alternative sentencing.

"I have a very specific recollection of asking Ms. Pfeil … and Ms. Pfeil said no, this will just be a straight sentence," Smith said. "I don't think this is an appropriate case … so I would deny any sentencing to an alternative sentencing program."

Pereira received 202 days' credit for time served and is required to register as a narcotics offender.

Bird told the court several firearms were seized in a warrant search of Pereira's home that are not related to the charges against him, some of which are family heirlooms, and requested they be released to Pat Pereira, her client's mother. The District Attorney's Office will verify that the guns were lawfully acquired and a transaction can then take place through a licensed gun dealer, Pfeil said.

The Union Democrat
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