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United States v. Louis Fowler (2005-present, Sacramento County)

posted Jan 30, 2013, 1:00 AM by The Editor   [ updated Feb 25, 2013, 12:38 AM ]
The DEA and Sheriff conducted a raid on Sacramento County dispensary operator Louis Fowler, 51, on July 7, 2005. In addition to the raid on the Alternative Specialties dispensary, allegedly as a result of operating without a business license, three other locations were raided by the DEA and Sheriff where two indoor gardens with more than 800 plants were found.

Fowler was charged federally with manufacture of marijuana and illegal possession of weapons. Fowler was released pending trial in Sacramento.  He jumped bail at was at large as of September 2008.


Louis Fowler Out of Jail, Escapes Judge's Notice
by Vanessa Nelson  
Friday, 06 April 2007

SACRAMENTO, CA -- It was only the second day of the month, and Judge Edward J. Garcia was already at the end of his rope.

"No more continuances," he barked from his bench, deaf to the pleas of attorneys on both sides. "We're going to set this matter for trial."

The judge's declaration shoved forward a once-notorious case that has gone under the radar for nearly two years now -- the prosecution of former medical marijuana provider Louis Wayne Fowler.

In fact, no one seems to have heard much about Fowler ever since the investigation of his dispensary, Alternative Specialties, culminated in a high-profile raid and arrest. The case began in the spring of 2005, when the Sacramento County Sheriff and District Attorney began actively looking into Fowler's medical marijuana establishment.

The physician-approved use of marijuana is legal under California law, as are medical cannabis collectives, but local law enforcement claimed the investigation was motivated by a purely administrative concern -- that Fowler may be operating without a valid business license.

No fewer than four warrants were issued stemming from this suspicion, giving official permission to search Alternative Specialties as well as the homes of Fowler's family and associates. And on the morning of July 7th, 2005, local officers served those warrants, swarming into various locations and clearing a path for the federal agents who were promptly called to the scenes.

The local officers claimed to have uncovered "evidence of federal drug violations" and thus required the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who arrived with their own warrants.

The DEA agents confiscated a rough total of 800 plants during the searches, which they officially declared to be worth half a million dollars in value. They also turned up a loaded handgun and fully-automatic assault rifle.

Though protestors showed up at the Alternative Specialties raid to remind the public of the medical marijuana's legality under state law, DEA Special Agent Gordon Taylor took the opportunity to reinforce the federal perspective.

"The cultivation and distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal drug statutes," Taylor told the news microphones with sober sternness. He ended his speech with the promise, "The DEA remains committed to working with local law enforcement to protect and serve the residents of this area."

This cooperative action left Fowler facing cultivation charges, but he was also slapped with a count related to the loaded guns -- being a felon in possession of a firearm.

If observers of the case were confused about the meaning of that charge, newspaper and television journalists were happy to oblige with an explanation of the details.

Reporters quickly paraded a juicy tidbit of history from police records -- that Fowler had made headlines in the 1980s by embezzling a shocking amount of taxpayer money from the state.

While working as an entry-level accountant with the State Water Resources Control Board, Fowler set up a fake water treatment company and then forged a government contract with this phony treatment plant. Once the ill-directed funds flowed over the $5 million mark, Fowler fled to Arizona and lived under a stolen identity until his capture in 1989.

He served seven years in prison for those crimes, which also netted his father on money laundering charges. The majority of the money, however, was never recovered. Its whereabouts remain a mystery.

Mary Jennifer Berg, who identifies herself as Fowler's sister, had a simplistic explanation for the missing millions. "He liked gambling and he liked women," Berg said at Fowler's arraignment. "That money was gone a long time ago."

Although he had committed what was considered the largest embezzlement of taxpayer funds in California history, Fowler seemed surprised that his record would haunt him into the 21st Century. He certainly didn't expect the matter to have such an impact on his current cultivation case, but he was philosophical about the developments.

"Opening up a dispensary or growing a lot of pot is a risky thing to do" Fowler said, shrugging, after a hearing last year. "You're not going to find any choirboys doing that."

The past may be behind him, but not everyone was so dismissive of Fowler's criminal history.

Initially declared a flight risk and denied bail in his current case, Fowler spent 15 months in Sacramento County Jail and watched quietly while his name once again receded to the back of the public's memory. Though a crowd of dozens showed up for his initial court appearances, the case soon met postponement after postponement, and the spectators quickly dropped off.

For over a year now, the audience seats have been practically empty at Fowler's hearings.

But truants need not be dismayed. Nobody missed anything in the meantime.

Courtroom drama in the case has been nil, and the one extraordinary event -- Fowler's eventual release from custody -- was so understated that even the judge went nearly half a year without noticing it.

Fowler had been out on bail for several months and for a number of court appearances before Judge Garcia realized the defendant was sans the typical inmate shackles and orange jumpsuit.

"I didn't know the defendant was out of custody," the judge said incredulously as Fowler stood before him in street clothes on March 2nd, 2007.

Being told that the bail hearing had taken place in front of a magistrate judge did not jog Garcia's memory. "Was the motion for release in writing?" he asked in astonishment before demanding to see a copy of the document.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William Wong, heading the prosecution in the case, attempted to smooth over some of the tension. "This matter is complex, your honor," Wong offered.

"I'll take your word for it," Judge Garcia snapped back at the prosecutor, following up with suggestions that the case record did not contain the proper exclusions for waiving time.

Noticeably perturbed, the judge continued to ruffle Wong by denying his request to approach the bench and privately explain the need for another postponement in the case.

"The defense and the government are in negotiations, your honor," the prosecutor said, repeating the phrase that has successfully baited continuances for almost two years running.

When the judge was unmoved, Wong continued the attempt with obvious discomfort. "There is an agreement that Mr. Fowler is involved with that I can't put on record," he said gingerly.

Those words, vague though they were, had an ominous ring of mystery and intrigue that appeared to catch Judge Garcia's attention. He ultimately granted one last continuance, giving the attorneys in the case a final chance to definitively hammer out the details of a plea agreement.

Outside the courtroom, Fowler's assessment was unambiguous. "That was bad," he said plainly.

When it comes down to it, though, the specter of more jail time doesn't rattle Fowler all that much.

His eyes are on the prize, focused on the time when his sentence is over and the world is once again his entrepreneurial oyster. That's when Fowler, who will have reached retirement age, hopes to be free to pursue his next goal.

There is no more forgery or embezzlement in Fowler's plans, nor will he go back to the federally illegal world of medical marijuana distribution. Instead of high-powered assault rifles, his new dream merely involves a a few wholesome loaves of bread and a stack of farm-fresh produce.

"What I really want is to open a sandwich shop," says Fowler, a devout vegetarian. "Just a little place that makes healthier sandwiches than Subway."

It seems a sedate move for such a controversial figure, but his sincerity is evidenced by the way his eyes light up when he talks about the venture. For all the anti-climax of the idea, it is a charming vision nonetheless.

The only trouble is that it may be a long way off.

Even a favorable plea deal is likely to put Fowler behind bars for years to come, and dreams of sandwich shop success will have to be delayed significantly.

But with attorneys continuing to bandy proposals in backroom negotiations, the final sentence is still anybody's guess.

Only one thing is sure at this point -- with the judge finally intent on decisions and determinations, resolution of the Fowler case is imminent.

**Louis Fowler's next court appearance will be at 10am on June 1st, 2007. The proceedings will take place in front of Judge Garcia on the 13th floor of 501 I Street in Sacramento, CA.**

Originally published April 6, 2007 by Vanessa Nelson at (now defunct).