Yuba County's Fellowship of Friends decry fed's pot busts

The Appeal-Democrat, California/October 12, 2012

Several Fellowship of Friends members in Yuba County are involved in marijuana trafficking and use proceeds to pay the religious organization, asserts a federal court filing that the Fellowship president says is false.

"It may even border on religious hate crimes," Gregory Holman said of the search warrant affidavit filed last week in US District Court in Sacramento. "In other drug affidavits, do you say someone is a Catholic or a Baptist?

The Fellowship, described in the warrant as "a sect of Mystical 'Fourth-Way' Christianity based upon the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff" and founded by Robert Burton in the 1970s, is based at a 1,250-acre site in Oregon House.

The search warrant states that a confidential source said it was common knowledge in the foothills that several Fellowship members supported themselves, and paid the required tenth of their income or $400 a month, by cultivating marijuana on properties surrounding the religious compound. The payments impose a financial burden on Fellowship members with limited resources in an area with few jobs, adds the warrant by a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent.

A German resident who moved here to join the Fellowship routinely has more than $100,000 in cash at his home from marijuana sales, according to the confidential source cited in the document.

"People within the Fellowship of Friends, including the leaders of the organization, knew how these people were obtaining the money they were providing," the source told the DEA, but "nobody seemed to care."

Holman responded, "We have no knowledge of any such thing."

"We condone no illegal activity," he said.

Holman said Fellowship members aren't required to contribute the sums outlined in the search warrant and questioned the source of the federal drug agency's information.

"Their confidential source is probably a former member of our church," Holman said, "who is probably taking advantage of the DEA."

"We don't allow use of marijuana," Holman said. "We don't even allow smoking."

"It makes for very curious reading," he said of the 27-page federal court filing.

Holman said the allegations in the warrant, and the September arrest of three Oregon House residents on suspicion of conspiracy and cultivation of marijuana for sale, has "nothing to do with us a religion."

Oregon House residents Andreas Jewers, 47, Juan Jose Domingo, 47, and Elizabeth E. Stefani, 43, are among people named in the warrant and were arrested in September during a DEA raid. They're scheduled to be arraigned in Yuba County Superior Court.

Jewers, the German national, was distributing large amounts of marijuana to customers outside of California, according to the Oct. 10 search warrant affidavit, which lists his Sweetwater Trail property and six others — including a 233-acre property owned by the Fellowship of Friends and accessed along Candlewood Lane — as locations to be searched.

DEA spokeswoman Casey Rettig said Friday that it's common for more information to be developed as an investigation proceeds.

Lauren Harwood of the US Attorney's Office in Sacramento said no federal charges have been filed in connection with the search warrant.

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