HUDSON — The trial for a man allegedly behind a multi-state marijuana trafficking operation was moved to May 2020.
The Tuesday, Nov. 12, development for 52-year-old Pheng Lee came less than a week before his trial was set to start in St. Croix County Circuit Court, where he is charged with THC possession with intent to deliver and maintaining a drug residence. Judge Scott Needham allowed the continuance motion, supported by defense and prosecuting attorneys, “with great reluctance and overall disappointment.”
Defense attorney Robert Wertheimer said hurdles he faced included difficulty in receiving interstate subpoenas for witnesses whose credibility he intends to question. Among late developments prompting his continuance motion were a Nov. 7 plea offer from the state, which Wertheimer said arrived the same day as word of federal charges against Lee.
No formal charges were listed in the federal government’s criminal justice case-tracking system as of Wednesday.
St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Karl Anderson said he backed the motion since he only recently absorbed the case after the original prosecutor, Ed Minser, left the DA’s office. Anderson said he, too, was struggling to get arrange witnesses for the case.
Jury selection for the five-day trial was set to begin Nov. 18. The new start date is May 4, 2020.
Needham’s trial process calls for strict deadlines, including cutoffs for plea agreements. He told attorneys that while he would begrudgingly allow the continuance, he would only accept a trial, a plea to the charges or a dismissal.
“The ship regarding settlement sailed,” the judge said.
Lee is accused of heading an operation that cultivated marijuana from two state-authorized farms in Oregon and overseeing its transportation to property he owns near Baldwin.
A Feb. 21, 2018, a search warrant executed at two town of Eau Galle properties turned up a combined 288 pounds of marijuana. A man charged and convicted in that case — Lee’s nephew — told authorities Lee had arranged for the home to be purchased. The pot belonged to Lee, the nephew, Tom Lee, told authorities.
Pheng Lee pleaded not guilty to the charges in January.