The woman leading the prosecution of three men standing trial in federal court in a $17 million drug conspiracy case called Friday’s opening statement the “preview to a motion picture.” And, in this case, she said, the title is “Operation Living Large #2.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Terra Morehead addressed a 16-member jury formed late Friday afternoon after nearly two days of selection. Standing trial are Lawrence twins Los Rovell Dahda and Roosevelt Rico Dahda, and Justin Pickel — each among the 43 defendants charged in connection with an alleged seven-year conspiracy that involved the funneling of drugs and cash between Kansas and California.
Friday’s statement began a trial that is expected to last until at least mid-June. The Dahdas sat next to each other and their attorneys before Judge Kathryn Vratil, and Pickel sat with his attorney at a table in front of them. Pickel showed little emotion during the first two days of trial, but the Dahdas cracked smiles and occasionally chuckled whenever jokes were made during jury selection.
Morehead detailed a monthslong wiretapping and surveillance investigation involving the Lawrence-Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. She said the conspiracy spanned from January 2005 until late July 2012.
“You will learn some have smaller roles than others but nevertheless were part of the same conspiracy,” Morehead said. Many of the co-defendants, she said, knew only a handful of the others involved.
Among the 40 co-defendants who Morehead said would testify as part of plea agreements are Chad Bauman, who had more than $1.4 million in assets owned by him and his fiancee, Carey Willming, seized during the investigation. Morehead said that Los Dahda was introduced to Bauman around 2007 and the two began a joint business venture involving marijuana and cocaine.
Morehead said Friday that California became the third source of high-grade marijuana in the conspiracy — solving concerns about the poor quality of Mexican marijuana and the high price of the Canadian product. Many of the defendants, Morehead said, used auxiliary gas tanks to store drugs and cash as they drove them cross-country and eventually shipped hundreds of pounds of the drugs in crates that they used under the guise of a shipping company servicing businesses they had also set up.
Morehead said a Lawrence restaurant also figured prominently in the case: Grandaddy Barbeque, which Los Dahda operated at 1447 W. 23rd St. Morehead told the jury they would see evidence from multiple surveillance and wiretapping operations in which an informant purchased marijuana from Los Dahda in the back of the business.
She said Los Dahda was recorded on multiple occasions taking bags and coolers later determined to contain marijuana from his home at 119 Pawnee St., which was subleased by Pickel. She said Pickel, meanwhile, operated a growing operation out of a home he shared with his wife and young child in California. A Nebraska Highway Patrol Officer later seized nearly 40 pounds of marijuana from Pickel during a stop as he drove his wife and child to Kansas. Morehead said investigators intercepted a phone call between Pickel and Roosevelt Dahda in which Dahda asked Pickel to bring a load of marijuana back to Lawrence.
Morehead concluded her remarks Friday by describing how the investigation came to a close with a series of arrests, search warrants and seizures on June 13, 2012, at various locations in Kansas, Missouri and California. Among the items seized were drug ledgers kept by Bauman and Peter Park, an Olathe man who is alleged to have been involved at the conspiracy’s earliest stages and is also expected to testify.
Morehead said Los Dahda and Bauman are charged with amassing a profit of nearly $15 million — much of which was recycled back into the marijuana trade — and that investigators seized nearly $17 million in proceeds, mainly real estate.
Trial will resume Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., with opening statements by the defense.
Earlier this month, Morehead said that the government expects to call between 50 and 65 of the more than 200 endorsed witnesses in the case and that it planned to introduce more than 900 exhibits, including 125 intercepted phone calls.