Two Pan Christies’ Bid for Religious Defense
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by Hunter Bishop
A pair of Roger Cristie’s co-defendants are expected to testify against the cannabis minister’s attempt to present a religious defense to federal marijuana possession and trafficking charges next week.
Two former employees of Christie’s THC Ministry who were arrested along with Christie, his wife Share, and 10 others on July 8, 2010, have told prosecutors that they worked the ministry’s “express” operation that let card-holders “donate” to the ministry and leave quickly with their “sacrament,” or marijuana.
Co-defendants Jessica R. Walsh, also known as Jessica Hackman, and Victoria C. Fiore, have both pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana involving more than 100 plants. Both await sentencing.
Roger and Share Christie are awaiting trial and want to mount a legal defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Last week federal prosecutors filed with the court statements from Walsh and Fiore that support the government’s opposition to the religious defense.
A hearing on whether the RFRA defense will be allowed at trial in the case is scheduled before US District Judge Leslie Kobayashi on Aug. 27.
In similar statements provided to prosecutors, Walsh and Fiore described how they came to the ministry and what they did there in 2009.
Both said that donations for membership in the ministry were flexible, but that so-called donations for “sacrament,” or marijuana, were fixed each day and not negotiable.
Fiore also said that in 2009 she described the ministry’s express operation to a caller and remembered it when the DEA agent who recorded the call played it back to her months later:
” … (I)f you don’t wanna have to, if you don’t wanna have to sit down, talk to Roger (Christie), you can just come on in, make a donation and pick up your sacrament,” Fiore told the undercover agent over the phone.
Customers there for express pickup only had to show their ministry ID card or state-issued medical marijuana card to make their donation and be on their way. The line sometimes extended down the steps from ministry office onto the sidewalk bordering Kamehameha Avenue.
“Only a handful of people actually wanted to see Roger Christie,” Fiore said.
The best grades of marijuana buds sold for “donations” of up to $60 for an eighth of an ounce, and both employees said they were told to memorize prices, not write them down.
Fiore said she worked at Christie’s ministry for about eight weeks in 2009 before becoming uncomfortable with the feeling she “was directly participating in the sale of marijuana at the Ministry.” She quit.
Walsh worked at the ministry for 18 months until March 2010 when it closed.
Roger Christie is being held without bail in a federal detention center in Honolulu pending trial, now set for Oct. 8.
Other defendants in the case are Aaron George Zeeman, Michael B. “Dewey” Shapiro, John Debaptist Bouey III, Perry Emilio Policicchio, Roland Gregory Ignacio, Donald James Gibson, Wesley Mark Sudbury, Richard Bruce Turpen, Timothy M. Mann and Suzanne Lenore Friend.
Calls to Thomas Otake and Lynn Panagakos, attorneys for Roger and Share Christie, respectively, were not returned.