South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley (R) thought he had the perfect case to help burnish his tough-on-pot prosecutorial credentials as he eyes the governorship in the socially conservative state. It didn’t work out that way, though.
Eric Hagen, who was set to be sacrificed on the altar of Jackley’s ambitions, walked free last week after a jury in Flandreau refused to convict him of a marijuana trafficking conspiracy for his company’s efforts to advise the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe on a marijuana cultivation operation and resort.
The tribe last year had announced plans for the operation after tribes across the country received an unsolicited okay from the federal government to pursue marijuana operations and hired Hagen’s Colorado-based Monarch America to help get the operation up and running. But facing mixed signals — including threats of possible raids — from federal officials and staunch opposition from state and local officials, the tribe tore up its plants last fall.
State officials got what they wanted, the tribe gave up its plans, Monarch America closed up shop on the reservation, and the matter appeared to be settled. But nine months later, as Jackley geared up for his 2018 gubernatorial run, he brought marijuana trafficking charges against Hagen and Monarch Vice President Jonathan Hunt.
The move came even though state attorneys general can’t prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations. In a novel move, Jackley argued that his office did have jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.
Facing up to ten years in state prison, Hunt copped to one count of conspiracy in August and agreed to testify against his business partner, but Hagen decided to fight and went to trial beginning last Friday. As a witness, Hunt testified that he did not think he was really guilty of crime, but accepted a plea bargain because he didn’t want to risk a prison sentence.
At the trial, jurors had to decide whether Hagen possessed or intended to possess marijuana and whether he engaged in a conspiracy. The state’s case took a blow when Santee Sioux tribal officials, including Chairman Tony Reider, testified that it was the tribe’s marijuana, not Hagen’s, and that Hagen and Hunt were merely consultants.
Defense attorney Mike Butler also successfully challenged the conspiracy claim, noting in arguments and questions to witnesses that there was nothing secret about the tribe’s plans. As Butler noted, the tribe and Monarch America had been very open about their plans and had invited media, lawmakers, and even the FBI to tour the grow operation.
Butler also alluded to the political subtext behind Jackley’s prosecution of the consultants. “My client and Mr. Hunt are collateral damage,” he said.
The jury agreed, finding Hagen not guilty after only two hours of deliberation Wednesday.
Hagen is a free man, but his company must now be rebuilt, and the Sioux Falls native is calling out Jackley for attempting to ride to higher political office on his back.
“He tanked our company by spreading lies and rumors,” Hagen said. “It was 100% politically motivated. This was simply a media ploy for Jackley because he’s running for governor in 2018.”
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