News and Press Releases

Men built “Ferris Wheel” like contraptions to cultivate more than 1,000 plants

January 18, 2006

CHAD ROBERT LATHAM, 30, of Tacoma, Washington was sentenced today to 15 years in prison and five years of supervised release for Conspiracy to Manufacture Marijuana and Manufacturing Marijuana. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton noted that LATHAM had two prior state convictions for growing marijuana.

According to the plea agreement, LATHAM designed eight machines out of aluminum that looked like ferris wheels. Each machine held 24 rows of plants with eight plants in each row for a total of 192 plants per machine. The plants would rotate around the machine, passing by grow lights, dipping into a hydroponic grow solution at the bottom or passing under a hydroponic grow solution spray at the top. In 2003-2004, the grow operation was located in a garage in rural Pierce County in McKenna, Washington. A co-conspirator, DANIEL IRWIN, lived on the property and hung a deteriorating deer carcase near the door to the building so that the smell of the rotting deer would mask the smell of marijuana.

In March of 2004, someone discovered the grow operation and LATHAM determined it needed to be moved. In the middle of the night on March 8, 2004, LATHAM and others attempted to move the operation to a warehouse at S. Clement Street in Tacoma. Neighbors heard what they thought was suspicious activity in the alley and called Tacoma Police. LATHAM was arrested and 2,083 marijuana plants were seized.

The case was investigated by the DEA/ TNET Task Force comprised of DEA agents and local law enforcement officers from Tacoma Police, Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Department of Corrections, Bonney Lake Police and Auburn Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Douglas J. Hill. Hill is a Deputy Pierce County Prosecutor who is specially designated to handle drug cases in Federal Court.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affair Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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