Tuesday, 18 June 2024

DEA conducts Upper Lake raids, make arrests

UPPER LAKE – Federal authorities arrested a well-known Upper Lake contractor Tuesday as part of an extensive enforcement operation, with at least two others also taken into custody.


But the federal defenders assigned to Upper Lake resident Tom Carter's case said in court documents filed this week that the complaint against him is “sadly deficient” and offers little in the way of information about his alleged involvement in a May marijuana deal arranged by an informant.


Dozens of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents armed with assault rifles and driving more than two dozen black Cadillac Escalades descended on the Hunter Point Road home Carter shares with wife, Jamie Ceridono, on Tuesday just before 7:30 a.m., Ceridono said Friday.


Ceridono said she counted four helicopters flying overhead at one point during the operation.


Later that day, Brett Bassignani, Carter's co-defendant in the case, was arrested at his Clover Valley Road home, Ceridono said. Also arrested was a neighbor, Scott Feil.


“I don't know the charges,” said Ceridono. “I don't know what's going on. No one has told me.”


Ceridono said her husband is being held at a jail facility in the Oakland area. Initially, after the arrest, she said he was taken to Sonoma County and was checked by medical personnel after his blood pressure shot up, causing her to believe he was having a heart attack.


“I don't know what he could have done to cause this,” she said, noting that her husband has worked hard all of his life, donated time to community causes and done fundraisers, as well as introducing the recent Rainbow Bridge Festival.


She said she saw a sheriff's official and another man who she believed was a local policeman on scene. Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said the agency wasn't involved in the DEA operation earlier this week.

 

DEA spokesperson Casey McEnry would offer little information about the raid.


“I can confirm the enforcement operation; however, the search warrants remain under court seal and I am prohibited from providing further details relating to the operation. I don't anticipate the warrants being unsealed anytime soon,” McEnry said in an e-mail response to Lake County News' inquiry about Carter's arrest.


When pressed on the circumstances of Carter's arrest, McEnry referred Lake County News to the US Attorney's Office in San Francisco. Repeated attempts to contact a spokesperson at that agency Friday afternoon were unsuccessful.


Carter, who was arraigned Wednesday, is facing two felony counts of conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute under the federal Controlled Substance Act.


At his hearing, the US Attorney's Office requested that he be detained “on the basis of flight risk and danger to the community,” according to federal court documents obtained by Lake County News.


A detention hearing is set for Wednesday, Aug. 26, in San Francisco before US Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman.


Ceridono said she was held in a chair in her front yard from about 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Also held were members of her husband's construction crew. Her teenage daughter was allowed to leave with her older daughter during the operation.


Officials took 154 marijuana plants that Ceridono said were covered by medical marijuana prescriptions held by her husband and several others. Also taken was her computer.


Agents went through Carter's and Ceridono's home, but she said they didn't trash it. She said a head agent seemed surprised not to find more plants or evidence.


Ceridono said at one point agents “didn't have anything to do.”


“They were playing with my dogs, they were so bored,” she said.


She said her husband, whose hard physical labor has resulted in a lot of aches and pains, also suffered a fracture in his back in May when he rolled his truck, and uses medical marijuana to deal with pain. Ceridono said she doesn't use the drug.


Federal court documents show that the US Attorney's Office requested on Aug. 14 – four days before Carter's arrest – that documents filed against him in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California be sealed, which US Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James agreed to do the same day.


On Wednesday, US Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman signed an order to unseal the documents at the request of Assistant US Attorney Tarek Helou.


On Thursday, federal defenders Barry J. Portman and Geoffrey A. Hansen filed a 26-page pre-trial memorandum regarding Carter's detention to dismiss the case, citing “sadly deficient” evidence.


The document explains that a confidential informant claimed to have arranged to purchase marijuana from Carter, leaving a message on an unspecified number alleged to be Carter's voice mail to set up the deal. That same informant allegedly made a purchase deal with Bassignani.


Carter's federal defenders said the case against Carter contains no claim that he got the phone message the number that the informant allegedly called and its relationship to Carter also isn't set out in the complaint against him, they noted. Feil''s arrest wasn't listed in the documents.


“All the complaint says is that another individual, Mr. Bassignani, called the informant, claimed he worked for 'Carter Construction,' and arranged a marijuana deal,” Carter's defense attorneys state.


The document continues, “The deal later took place, and the only other reference to Mr. Carter is the conclusory claim that the informant 'had agreed on the price with Carter.' No context, no specifics, and no other information is provided in the complaint which indicates that Mr. Carter in fact talked to the informant, arranged a marijuana deal, and indicated that he (Carter) was knowingly involved in a marijuana transaction.”


The attorneys added, “This complaint is sadly deficient with regard to whether Mr. Carter has done anything to indicate that he conspired to break the law. It should be dismissed accordingly.”


Carter's counsel also is seeking to receive copies of any evidence that may have been collected by wiretap.


Ceridono said she and a group of friends and supporters are planning to travel to San Francisco next Wednesday for her husband's hearing in federal court.


In the wake of the raid, Ceridono said she feels like she's living in another country. “I don't feel like I'm in California at all.”


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews .

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