Brothers granted $2M bail in pot case

Two brothers facing federal criminal charges for a multimillion dollar medical marijuana operation in Hayward were freed from a Dublin jail on $1 million bail bonds early this morning.

Harold Rosenthal, a lawyer for Winslow Norton, 26, of Lafayette, said that Norton and his brother, Abraham Norton, 23, of Oakland, were released from custody at Alameda County's Santa Rita Jail at 4 a.m. today.

The brothers were arrested Tuesday on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, distributing the drug and money laundering in connection with the Compassionate Patients' Cooperative, a medical marijuana dispensary in an unincorporated area of Alameda County near Hayward.

They were temporarily held at the county jail and were each granted release on $1 million bail by U.S. Magistrate Wayne Brazil in Oakland on Wednesday.

The bail bonds are secured by the Nortons' mother's house in Berkeley.

Brazil ordered them to return to the court of U.S. District Judge Lowell Jensen on Nov. 16 for the setting of future court dates.

Prosecutors say the brothers made $26 million from the operation in the first six months of 2007, owned Mercedes Benzes and established $67,000 individual retirement accounts for themselves.

They each face a total of 23 counts in a federal grand jury indictment, including 18 counts of money laundering.

Rosenthal said today that the brothers “were playing by the book” under California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act, which allows seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's approval.

Federal drug laws make no exception for the state law, however.

Rosenthal said the two brothers were closely supervised by the county sheriff's department, sold only to genuine patients and “paid massive amounts of taxes” on their sales.

The defense attorney said, “They ran a bona fide dispensary, helping people with bona fide medical problems. Their principal sin seems to be making money. The penalty for making too much money is to pay a lot of taxes.

“There's a clear contradiction between what is permitted under state law and what is permitted by federal law. That's not how federal is supposed to work,” Rosenthal said.

The attorney confirmed that the two men's father is Michael Norton, who ran a coffee shop in Berkeley in the 1990s.

Michael Norton was accused in a federal indictment in 1998 of defrauding business and retail customers by selling Central American coffee as more expensive Kona coffee from Hawaii.

By coincidence, that case was also assigned to Jensen. Michael Norton pleaded guilty in 2000 to one count of fraud and one count of tax evasion and was sentenced by Jensen in 2001 to two years and six months in prison.

— Bay City News

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