(Ed Andrieski, Associate Press file)

Judge maintains $1 million bond for accused leader of Colorado marijuana trafficking ring

An Arapahoe County judge refused Thursday to reduce the $1 million bond for a man accused of leading a ring suspected of illegally growing marijuana and selling it out-of-state, despite objections from his lawyer, who called the bust politically motivated.

Christopher Decker, a lawyer for Michael Stonehouse, accused 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who is considered a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2018, of inflating the seriousness of the crime to elevate his political profile.

“They are selling this like it is a big, huge bust,” Decker said outside the courtroom. “I think they stubbed their toe on it.”

Brauchler office wouldn’t comment on the charges beyond what was said during the hearing.

Stonehouse, 53, and 15 other suspects were arrested in a metro-wide raid on March 16. Authorities said the suspects grew and packaged hundreds of pounds of pot each month and shipped it to at least five states. They also are accused of producing and illegally selling hash oil.

The indictment leading to the bust followed a raid last August on an equestrian property in Elizabeth where they found 2,500 pounds of marijuana that officials estimate was worth about $5 million. The Elbert County property, with its riding arena and huge house, is connected to Stonehouse, according to court documents.

Despite the raid, the group continued to cultivate cannabis at that property in Elbert County.

The decision to continue illegal activity following the first raid, which led to an investigation that triggered last week’s bust, was among the reasons 18th Judicial District Judge Patricia Herron gave for refusing to lower Stonehouse’s bond to $100,000.

She also referred to Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, saying, “the fact that he could have done much of what he was doing legitimately, but didn’t go that route,” also made her leery that he might skip bond concerned that he could be a danger to the community.

Decker said his client is the father of seven children, two of whom are disabled  and five of whom are minors. “He has no resources to travel …he has a dependent family which needs him badly and nobody was physically hurt.”

Public records show that Stonehouse ran the nonprofit Stonehouse Foundation from his home on Mira Del Sol Court in Castle Rock. The charity contributed more than $49,000 to other charities in 2015, including more than $5,000 to Harvesting in Spanish, a charity in El Salvador, according to 990 form filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Decker said that Stonehouse has a food truck that has been missing since the raids.

His brother, Theodore Franklin Stonehouse, who was also arrested last week, is listed as a foundation director, as is his wife, Carmen.

“I need you to get out of my face,” his wife told a reporter, who asked for comment at her husband’s bond hearing.

Stonehouse has invested in legal marijuana operations and acts as a consultant for the marijuana industry in Colorado, Decker said. Some of the pot seized in the raids was produced legally.

Prosecutor Darcy Kofol said Stonehouse ran an organization that posed a danger to residents. The operation used butane extraction to make hash oil, a dangerous process that can trigger explosions. One lab was at the Elizabeth ranch, while the other was in Denver and posed a threat to neighbors, she said.

During the raid on Stonehouse’s $891,000 home in Castle Rock, authorities found cash, gold coins and Iraqi currency, she said. Stonehouse also kept guns in a safe at the home.

Decker said his client, a former Marine, has no connection to Iraq.

Stonehouse served four years, of a 12-year sentence, in state prison for a forgery and theft conviction after being charged with involvement in an identity theft ring in 1999.

He is scheduled to next appear in court on April 21.

This story was first published on DenverPost.com