Tuolumne County has filed a $2.7 million civil suit against a Hughson man and a Modesto-based corporation known as the Budfather Collective, which is alleged to be associated with a marijuana cultivation site in Jupiter raided by county officials in 2018.
According to documents filed in the Tuolumne County Superior Court, the county is seeking remittance for unpaid administrative fees and fines levied by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors about three weeks after the raid, which occurred at an isolated property near Diamond Placer Circle and Italian Bar Road on June 26, 2018.
The document alleges Francisco Ramirez, the owner of the property, and The Budfather Collective relinquished their right to appeal the decision because they did not attend the Board of Supervisors appeal hearing on July 17.
Christopher Schmidt, deputy county council, said Ramirez is represented by Ameet Birring, of the Sodhi Law Group in Modesto. Birring did not return a call for comment.
The collective also did not respond to an email or phone request for comment. According to Google, The Budfather Collective is permanently closed and was located on the 500 block of Sonora Avenue in Modesto.
During the brief hearing on Tuesday, Judge Kevin Seibert set a hearing on Jan. 14 and requested the parties discuss a potential trial date.
“To promote open communication between parties, the county will not comment whether it is in settlement discussion with other parties,” Schmidt said in an email.
Schmidt said if a settlement was reached, there would be a public announcement of the approval at a Board of Supervisors meeting.
Reporters from The Union Democrat were shadowing the county’s chief building official, a code compliance investigator and two Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office deputies when they raided the Jupiter property, which was found to have 1,521 marijuana plants and multiple code violations.
According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, an abatement order and notice was mailed to Ramirez and posted on the entrance gate to the property the next day.
The order called for the removal of the marijuana plants and to rectify the code violations, which included the use of a recreational vehicle and pump house as dwellings, the removal or proper storage of chemicals, the removal of hoop structures (makeshift greenhouses made from PVC pipes, wood and covered in plastic tarps) or seek a building permit for them.
Court documents said the initial fine in the notice was $153,652, or $152,200 in monetary penalties for the marijuana plants and $1,452 in abatement costs incurred in processing the case.
According to an ordinance which went into effect on June 1, 2018, the fine levied on The Budfather Collective and Ramirez ballooned exponentially. Marijuana cultivators are charged a separate violation for each marijuana plant over the legal limit and on a cumulative gradient: $100 for the first day, $200 for the second day, and $500 for the next three days if the plants are not destroyed.
Commercial cannabis cultivation is prohibited in Tuolumne County, but adults over 21 can grow up to six marijuana plants inside of their residence for personal use. A county ordinance allows up to 12 plants in specific agricultural zoning districts.
Prior to the June 1, 2018 ordinance an illegal grow site was fined $1,552, or $100 for the cannabis cultivation violation and $1,442 for abatement costs.
The final fine levied on The Budfather Collective and Ramirez was $2,740,731, or $2,737,800 and $2,931 in abatement costs.
According to the court records, the county building division received a hand-delivered and unsigned written request for hearing appealing the notice order containing $500 in cash for a county-required hearing fee. The request requested future notifications be sent to an address on Columbine Drive in Modesto related to The Budfather Collective and a Yahoo email address.
The document said Ramirez and the collective were sent a notice with the hearing date, time and location via overnight post on July 6.
The Union Democrat was present at the hearing on July 17, 2018, when neither Ramiriez nor a representative of the collective appeared.
Deputy County Counsel Carlyn Drivdahl said after the appeal hearing that the county had not had a penalty levied on someone of this amount before.
“The fact that they didn’t show up and challenge the fine is surprising,” she said.
The Board voted 4-0 to uphold the fine and issued a final order at the hearing demanding payment.
The county later received letters from the suspected president of the The Budfather Collective and through Ramirez’s attorney, denying responsibility and alleging lack of notice, the court documents said.
The county was represented by Schmidt at a case management conference in the Tuolumne County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Schmidt said Ramirez is the only defendant appearing in the case at this time. Ramirez’s attorney appeared Tuesday over a court call.
Schmidt said the only previous court date on the matter was on June 25 for a dismissal motion filed by Ramirez. He said the motion was denied except for an amendment to the original complaint, which removed Ramirez as an alter ego defendant associated with the Budfather Collective.
An alter ego defendant is an individual identified as responsible for suspected unlawful acts of a corporation in a complaint.
The complaint names Barbara J. Turnbow and Luis Alfredo Ochoa Castillo as alter ego defendants, respectively president and secretary of The Budfather Collective.
The original criminal complaint was filed on March 11 and the amended complaint was filed on July 10.