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Sandy Springs Marijuana “Grow House” Operation Defendants Sentenced To Prison

ATLANTA, GA. – MARC BROTEMARKLE, 24, of Harrisburg, Missouri, and DEREK O’NEAL, 32, of Atlanta, Georgia, were sentenced to prison today by United States District Judge Thomas W. Thrash on charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants and possession of marijuana plants with intent to distribute. A co-defendant in the case, JENNIFER McCHAN, 21, of Harrisburg, Missouri, was also sentenced today on a charge of misprision of a felony, based upon her conduct and role in the drug case.

“Indoor marijuana grows are becoming more frequently encountered by law enforcement and pose a danger to communities,” said Rodney G. Benson, Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Atlanta Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “This matter shows the positive impact a community can have when suspicious activity is encountered and reported to authorities, as well as the positive outcome of cooperative investigative efforts that lead to successful prosecutions and convictions.”

United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “These defendants put an entire neighborhood at risk by operating a sophisticated marijuana grow house that was equipped with dangerous chemicals, unsafe wiring and multiple firearms. No neighborhood should be the epicenter of a drug operation, and thanks to the residents and the Sandy Springs Police Department, the poison is gone and the growers are on their way to federal prison.”

Atlanta HIDTA Director Jack Killorin said, “Clandestine drug production in our communities pose a many layered threat, to safety and health as much as from their drug dealing. Criminal organizations make terrible neighbors.”

“Growing operations such as this put everyone at risk not just by the marijuana that is grown but through the violence that follows the path of drugs and money,” said Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry L. Sult.

BROTEMARKLE was sentenced to 5 years, 1 month in prison, and O'NEAL to 5 years, 2 months in prison, each to be followed by 4 years of supervised release. BROTEMARKLE and O'NEAL were convicted of these charges on February 14, 2011 after a jury trial.

McCHAN was sentenced to 1 year, 4 months in prison to be followed by 1 year of supervised release. McCHAN pleaded guilty to the charges on February 14, 2011.

According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: During fall 2009, neighbors in the area of a house at 8130 Habersham Waters Road noticed a strong odor, electricity brownouts, and high levels of activity at the house, which was owned by the parents of a co-defendant in the case, PHILLIP LAUGHLIN, 32, of Sandy Springs, Georgia. In response to neighbors’ concerns, on January 8, 2010, the Sandy Springs Police Department conducted surveillance on the house and saw BROTEMARKLE and O’NEAL leave the house in McCHAN’s car. 

LAUGHLIN pulled out of the driveway in a second car. During a traffic stop of LAUGHLIN, he was able to call BROTEMARKLE and O’NEAL and instructed them to go back to his house and “destroy everything.” 

BROTEMARKLE and O’NEAL returned to the house, where Sandy Springs Police Officers saw one of them accompany co-defendants McCHAN and SARAH RAE TOWNSEND, 30, of Sandy Springs, Georgia, back to MCCHAN’s waiting car. While McCHAN and TOWNSEND put their small children into the back seat, one of the men stored a large object in the trunk. McCHAN then drove in a manner designed to evade the police before eventually pulling into the parking lot of a supermarket, where McCHAN and TOWNSEND were encountered by Sandy Springs Police Officers. The officers discovered that TOWNSEND had over $20,000 in cash inside her jacket, and also found an electric power generator in the trunk of McCHAN’s vehicle.

After McCHAN’s car left the LAUGHLIN house, officers saw BROTEMARKLE and O’NEAL run outside to the backyard and hide various items. BROTEMARKLE concealed a SWD Cobray M-11 9 mm Pistol in leaves on the ground, while O’NEAL stored bags containing three firearms and $20,000 worth of fresh marijuana, packaged for sale, under a gazebo. 

After BROTEMARKLE and O’NEAL were detained, BROTEMARKLE admitted that he had been living at LAUGHLIN’s house for one month. A search of the house uncovered a complex marijuana grow operation containing 853 marijuana plants in the basement. The equipment used to power the grow house included the same type of electric generator retrieved from McCHAN’s trunk.

Based upon evidence seized at the house on Habersham Waters Road, Sandy Springs Police identified a second marijuana grow house, located at 64 Long Island Place, in Sandy Springs. They executed a search warrant at that house, where they found a similar grow house operation with 263 marijuana plants. As with the first house, the second grow house also was equipped with complex power, irrigation and ventilation systems.

On March 17, 2010, a federal grand jury indicted BROTEMARKLE, O’NEAL, McCHAN, LAUGHLIN and TOWNSEND for their roles in the drug case. LAUGHLIN and TOWNSEND were fugitives until March 17, 2011, when they were apprehended by the Oakland, California, Police Department. They are currently being transferred to the Northern District of Georgia for prosecution.

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the High Intensity Drug Task Force Area; and Officers of the Sandy Springs Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Shanya J. Dingle and Special Assistant United States Attorney Mike Smith prosecuted the case.

DEA Atlanta’s Field Division’s SAC Rodney G. Benson encourages parents, along with their children, to educate themselves about the dangers of legal and illegal drugs by visiting DEA’s interactive websites at www.justhinktwice.com, www.GetSmartAboutDrugs.com and www.dea.gov.


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