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September 4, 2015

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12 arrested with ties to Las Vegas medical marijuana clinic raids

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Steve Marcus

Law enforcement officers enter a medical marijuana clinic at East Sahara Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010.

Updated Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011 | 1:56 p.m.

Twelve people were arrested Thursday morning in connection with a federal investigation dubbed Operation Chronic Problem involving medical marijuana clinics in and around Las Vegas, officials said.

The arrests stem from raids conducted by Metro Police and federal agents in September during an investigation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the Las Vegas Valley, said Sarah Pullen, special agent in the Los Angeles field division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which includes Nevada. No one was arrested during the execution of those search warrants in September.

Eleven people were arrested in the Las Vegas area and one was arrested in California, but all are connected to the Las Vegas investigation, Pullen said. Federal charges have been filed against three other people who haven't been found, officials said.

The suspects face a variety of federal charges, including conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit money laundering, distribution of marijuana near schools or colleges, possession of a firearm in relation to drug trafficking and failing to disclose or concealing information concerning Social Security benefits, officials said.

Authorities said the 15 suspects were distributing marijuana in violation of federal and state laws through the operation of storefront medical marijuana businesses, such as The Happiness Consultant (THC), the Nevada Compassionate Center, Dr. Reefer, LV Fingerprinting and Organic Releaf.

Nevada law doesn't allow the the sale of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana patients or caregivers must grow their own marijuana in amounts not exceeding state laws.

Officials from the office of U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden for the District of Nevada said drug intelligence information collected by law enforcement agencies indicates there are 45 to 60 businesses illegally trafficking marijuana in the Las Vegas Valley.

"Marijuana remains a top revenue source for drug organizations, and young people are often misinformed about this drug whose potency has tripled in the past 20 years and sends more youth the treatment than any other drug," said DEA special agent Timothy J. Landrum, who was in charge of this operation, in a statement. "Accordingly, DEA will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and investigate those responsible for propagating this dangerous drug."

Officials said the dispensaries often buy marijuana from third-party vendors, which is not allowed under Nevada law.

In addition, authorities allege that dispensary operators claim they require donations rather than compensation for marijuana — all part of an effort to conceal illegal business operations.

The following defendants are being charged in Operation Chronic Problem. Those already arrested will make an initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas on Friday.

- John Birmele, 36, of Las Vegas (also known as "Mr. Happy"): arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish, possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, money laundering conspiracy - promotion, money laundering, failing to disclose or concealing information affecting Social Security benefits

- Kelly Birmele, 36, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish, money laundering conspiracy - concealment

- Laura Rhoades-Yokoi, 36, of Henderson: arrested for money laundering conspiracy - concealment

- John Allen Youngblood, 40, of Los Angeles: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, money laundering conspiracy - promotion

- Timothy Hough, 31, of Henderson: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish, possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking crime

- Michael Ellsworth, 57, of Henderson: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana

- Reynalda Barnett, 59, of Las Vegas (also known as Reyna Barnett): arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, concealing or failing to disclose information affecting Social Security benefits

- Clyde Barnett, 21, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana

- Pierre Werner, 39, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, concealing or failing to disclose information affecting Social Security benefits

- Ron Teston, 57, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana

- Kristen Krusyna, 21, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana

- Michael Mcauliffe, 53, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish

- Katree Darriel Saunders, 30, of Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana

- Chad Uhl, 26, of North Las Vegas: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, distribution of marijuana, possession with intent to manufacture marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish

- Caroline Dellaville, 49, of Henderson: arrested for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and hashish, possession with intent to manufacture marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and hashish

The investigation is being conducted as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and the Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program with numerous agencies investigating the cases.

Officials said the investigation remains ongoing for other illegal dispensaries operating in the Las Vegas Valley.

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