The high profile bust featuring the Bulgarians of Covelo has developed an added angle — and more defendants.
Last October, when the first case against the Bulgarians was getting ready to go to trial, Special Agent Peter Hoyle returned to the scene to take some pictures where Hoyle found two more Bulgarians, Hristo Kolev and Vasil Ivanoff, in the act of transporting marijuana from the Bulgarian's pot farm off Bently Ridge Road north of Covelo.
Hoyle said he had just gotten out of his vehicle with his camera when a vehicle approached from the other direction. He waved them on, he said, but the vehicle stopped as its occupants pointed toward the property Hoyle was interested in, a property bisected by a US Forest Service road. Hoyle then approached the vehicle and smelled marijuana. He asked the driver how much marijuana they had and the driver handed him a 10 pound bag. He asked if they were armed; they said no. He asked the driver to get out of the vehicle and found a revolver tucked between the seats — and more marijuana. With Deputy Timothy Goss bringing up the rear, the two cops busted the two new Bulgarians who, it seems, were simply trying to help out.
Either that or they're the dumbest Bulgarians of the four Bulgarians in Covelo.
Attorneys Ann Moorman and Jan Cole-Wilson were defending the Bulgos. They were arguing first that the evidence was legally insufficient (a 995 Motion) and secondly, it had been illegally obtained (a 1538.5 Motion).
Ms. Cole-Wilson said, “It’s our position that because the marijuana was never moved from the location where it was grown, it was never transported.”
“What constitutes a location?” Judge Leonard LaCasse asked.
Cole-Wilson said, “The freshly harvested marijuana was removed from the grow area to the cabin area, all on a parcel, one piece of property. If I went out to my garden and brought some vegetables in to my kitchen, even if I load it on the Kubota, it’s not transportation.”
Judge LaCasse said, “You seem to be suggesting that it was a 100-acre tract.”
“Well, if I move it from the north 40, it’s all the same; so we have to look at what location means,” she said, agreeing with the judge.
Deputy DA Katherine Houston chimed in: “It may not be transportation to bring some vegetables from the garden to the kitchen, but this was marijuana and here we don’t know where they’re coming from, other than they were coming down the road in the vehicle.”
Judge LaCasse said, “I’m going to deny the 995 Motion. I’m persuaded that it was marijuana and it was in a vehicle being transported.”
The next step was the 1538.5 Motion to determine if SA Hoyle caught the Bulgarians fair and square. According to the local “marijuana cultivating community,” the legendary Hoyle has a reputation for audacious and sometimes devious maneuvers. Attorneys Cole-Wilson and Moorman seemed especially wary of Hoyle’s methods, as the hearing began with Ms. Houston’s direct examination, and her attempt to establish the location of the bust on June 25th of 2009.
Hoyle said, “I’ve been told it’s the Bently Ridge Road.”
“Objection,” Ms. Moorman howled, shooting to her feet. “Move to strike!”
“Overruled,” LaCasse said. “It doesn’t matter what the name of the road is.”
Hoyle resumed: “Once you turn off the N1 Road, you follow Bently Ridge Road a distance, and eventually you end up at the property. It’s a dirt road, it goes through the property and ends at the Eel River, a fork of the Eel,”
“Any structures on the property?” Houston asked.
“Yes, a cabin, a shed.”
“I think you said a house — ?”
“Yes, I may have. It’s a two bedroom living quarters and two other structures, one a frame covered with Visqueen.”
Visqueen is the plastic sheeting outdoor pot growers shelter their starts with.
Ms. Houston wanted to cut to the chase, but it took a couple of false starts to get the question framed to Ms. Moorman’s satisfaction. Finally she said, “What, if anything, happened after you arrived at the property?”
“Four people in a pick-up rounded the turn. They were stopped. Indicia in the vehicle showed they were staying at the property.”
Special agent Hoyle seems to know some Latin. Indicia means there was some stuff in the car indicating that the Bulgos lived in the nearby house.
“In the house?”
“Yes. It was unfinished, a cabin in the woods, with sleeping accommodations for four people.”
“I’m going to interject an objection here,” Ms. Moorman said.
“The court has to consider the totality of the circumstances, so your objection is overruled,” LaCasse said.
“Yes,” Hoyle said. “There was a .38 caliber revolver on the two-by-four above one of the bedroom doors.”
“Was there any marijuana being cultivated on the property?”
“Yes, it was in the Visqueen structure.”
“Were the four people arrested?”
“And a trial was set?”
“Yes, for October 29th of ’09.”
“Did you later return to the property?”
“I wanted to take photographs for the upcoming trial.”
“So the following week you went back with Deputy Goss. Did you have a search warrant?”
“And you parked on the road. Did you see any signs or obstructions?”
“Did you block the road?”
“What kind of vehicle were you in?”
“A Toyota pickup.”
“So you were in the process of taking photographs. Did something happen?”
“Yes. A vehicle approached, coming down the hill. It stopped about 30 feet away with two people in it. I looked at the driver and motioned for him to come around. The driver pointed and jabbed at the cabin, so I began walking toward the vehicle.”
“I was investigating that cabin and I was going to talk to him. As I approached I smelled fresh marijuana.”
Ms. Moorman objected. She didn’t think Hoyle could smell marijuana at 30 feet, but LaCasse overruled her saying that he smells it himself every time he goes out for a walk, and smells it from a lot farther than 30 feet.
Hoyle continued: “As I approached I showed him the badge around my neck so he wouldn’t think I was a robber or something and asked how much marijuana he had. He said he had about 10 pounds and handed it out the window to me. I then asked if he had any firearms and he said no. I asked him to step out of the vehicle, and when he did I saw a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver stuffed down between the seats. I notified Deputy Goss there was a gun in the vehicle and he removed the passenger.”
“Did the fact that he lied to you about the gun have any effect on — ”
“Objection.” Moorman howled. “Relevance!”
Judge LaCasse overruled Ms. Moorman, saying it was relevant.
“Anything else of interest in the vehicle?” Ms. Houston asked.
“Yes,” Hoyle said. There was second bag of marijuana and some ammunition for a rifle.”
“Was the Smith and Wesson loaded?”
“It was, yes. So after we detained the two we took the keys from the vehicle and made a protective sweep of the cabin and other structures.”
“These people indicated they were going to the cabin. I knew they were Bulgarian. Considering the fact there was a gun the first time, and now another gun, it was my intention to investigate.”
“So you took the keys from the ignition. Did you find anyone?”
“No. So I returned to the suspects. I wanted to see if they had authority to give consent, and consider the feasibility of locking down and going for a search warrant. The driver acknowledged he was the person responsible and I asked for his consent to search the cabin.”
“Did he have authority?”
“It seemed to me he did.”
Ms. Houston was curious about what Hoyle found in his search, and launched into a series of questions for each of the structures, but Judge LaCasse interrupted.
He said, “This seems to be lapsing into another matter. Why is it relevant what was in the other buildings? I’m trying to clarify what the issues are. I don’t know that I need to go beyond the initial stop. This is a 1538.5. I could be wrong but I need to know where you are going with this.”
“Well, then,” Houston said, “I don’t think I have any further questions.”
Ms. Moorman rose to cross. “Detective Hoyle — are you a detective?”
“You can call me whatever you want,” Hoyle said obligingly.
“Now, in June you went to the property,” Moorman said, holding an open document in her hand, some pages curled over from a staple in the corner, “and you referred to a number… Can you give a street address?”
“I don’t know what it is — but it’s my understanding that it’s a parcel.”
“You made reference to a structure…”
“Is there another wooden structure on the same property?”
“That’s my belief, yes. It’s at least a 40 acre property.”
Ms. Moorman unfurled a hand-drawn chart, an exhibit from the preliminary hearing last year, and attached it to an easel. She pointed out some features on the chart and asked Hoyle if he remembered them, the cabin, the Visqueen structure, the shed, a road…
She said, “So the road runs through a portion of the property?”
“Did you go to the property with some understanding of who owns it?”
“I’d seen some papers but don’t recall the name.”
“So it was your understanding you’d entered onto private property?”
“So you’d parked on the wrong side of the road?”
She pointed to a feature on the chart and said, “So that’s pointing downhill?”
“So it’s your understanding today, as it was then, that this is private property?”
“Yes. That’s my belief.”
“So you went again in October to get some photographs, and when you were, uhh…” Moorman studied some pages on her table briefly “…umm, so you went to the property for the purposes stated. Was there another officer with you besides Deputy Goss?”
“Yes, Deputy DeLosantos.”
“So when you got to the property you took some photographs?”
“Yes, ma'am. Some. But I was interrupted.”
“Yes, yes. By the approaching vehicle. Was the driver committing any infraction?”
“No. Other than there was no front license plate.”
“So you gestured for them to go on by but they couldn’t because you were on the wrong side of the road.”
“No, ma'am. There was room to go around. I was curious why they’d stopped so far away and when I waved them by they didn’t go on.”
“Did you pull your badge out then?”
“I think I did while walking toward the vehicle.”
“And Deputy Goss, where was he?”
“He was several feet behind me.”
“So you approached the vehicle — well, let me ask you this: Did you have any reason to detain the occupants?”
“It wasn’t my intention to ask for his driver’s license and vehicle registration because he didn’t have a front license plate, if that’s what you mean. I was merely going to have an Officer-Citizen talk.”
“So the two of you walked to the vehicle on either side?”
“Who initiated contact?”
“Isn’t the first thing you did was to identify yourself as a police officer?”
“I did that in transit.”
“And when you got to the vehicle you detected marijuana.”
“I smelled it before I got there.”
“So your testimony is that you detected marijuana several feet away.”
“You asked if he had marijuana.”
“You cuffed him as soon as he got out and Deputy Goss cuffed the passenger.
“No. That’s not true. You’ve got the sequence wrong.”
“You cuffed Mr. Ivanoff immediately after he got out, then you noticed the firearm.”
“Yes. Then Deputy Goss cuffed the passenger.”
“Were they placed face-down?”
“Yes. Initially, they were. While we conducted the protective sweep.”
The Bulgarian defendants looked like they were at a tennis match. Their heads moved in unison from their interpreter to Hoyle.
At this point in the hearing, Judge LaCasse called a recess to give the Bulgarian language interpreter a break. “It’s very hard work,” the judge said of the interpretation effort.
After the break, Ms. Moorman put SA Hoyle to work on the chart, filling in details. She had him draw a diagram of the cabin, mark where the generator was, electrical cords, water lines, a storage shed.
Moorman asked, “There was food in the storage shed?”
“Food for humans?”
“Yes. It was Bulgarian food.”
I waited for someone to explain what Bulgarian food was. Nobody explained. I made a note to look up “Food, Bulgarian.”
“Can you estimate the distance from where you were parked to the cabin?”
“I can, yes. It was 100 feet or so.”
“And in your mind all these structures were associated with the property?”
“Now, the road through the property — have you driven through and are you aware that it dead-ends?”
“Yes. It dead-ends at the Eel River.”
“Now, after you made the protective sweep you returned and determined their identity?”
“So it was your understanding they were both living there and after you ascertained they each had been staying on the property you decided to move everyone down to the front of the cabin?”
“I take it you never got a warrant for the search in October.”
“I have no further questions.”
Jan Cole-Wilson had a go at cracking hard-boiled Hoyle’s shell.
She said, “Detective Hoyle, about your memory of going back to the location in October: When asked if you went at the request of the DA, your answer was no.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Do you recall Ms. Houston asking you at the preliminary hearing if you’d gone to the property at her request?”
“The reason you went up there was she asked you to.”
“No, I don’t believe I did. I went up there on my own.”
Ms. Cole-Wilson produced a transcript from the prelim and showed it to Hoyle, pointing to the relevant paragraph. Hoyle put on his glasses and read it.
She said, “Would you agree that that’s what the transcript says?”
“It does,” Hoyle said. “That’s what the document says. But that’s not my recollection of the event.”
“Were you telling the truth during the prelim?”
“Now, Detective Hoyle. You indicated you’d taken some photographs before you saw the vehicle.”
“I believe I had taken some initial photographs before, yes. I don’t recall, but that was my intent.”
“What part of the area had you taken photographs of?”
“Again, I don’t recall. I was out of the vehicle, and I was going to take some photographs.”
Cole-Wilson had a thick sheaf of copy paper with color photos printed on the pages. She presented the packet of pictures to Hoyle and he put his glasses back on, making him look less like Fu Manchu and more like Confucius.
“I can’t tell with certainty when I took the photographs but ultimately I did take those photographs.”
“They were taken by you.”
“And they were taken when the gentlemen were still on the ground — ?”
Apparently, one of the photos showed one of the Bulgarian gentlemen’s legs prone in the dirt by the Bulgo-mobile. The pictures were numbered.
“Is this the first photograph you took?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t recall that these were the first photographs you took — ?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Did you change the sequence?”
“I don’t know how to do that.” (The photos were downloaded from a computer.)
“You didn’t change the sequence?”
“Then the DA would have that disk in their file… Now, if the disk showed that sequence” —
“I know for example that there’s photographs I took that are not here…”
“Well, would it be fair to say that disk would contain the sequence of the photographs?”
“And so you arrived at the property and parked by the Visqueen structure?”
“I turned around there.”
“Is that your vehicle in the corner of this photograph?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Well, was there any other vehicles up there?”
“So it would be your vehicle?”
“Then, uhm, these photographs indicate that you were at the cabin area before encountering Ivanoff and Kolev. And this one, number 24, taken at the south side of the cabin — when were you down here? — what was the time frame?”
“I don’t recall going down there before the SUV. But if you’re saying the sequence is correct, then I obviously did, but I don’t recall taking those photographs before they arrived.”
“In March of 2010 were you telling the truth?”
“I am today, also,” Hoyle said pointedly, but he showed no sign that the repeated aspersion rankled.
Ms. Cole-Wilson then produced a US Forest Service map. It was established that the road in question was not Bently Ridge Road, but the Timber Ridge Trail.
“That runs off Bently Ridge Road,” Hoyle said, and the judge called a recess for lunch.
During lunch an emissary from the DA’s office had consulted with the lawyers and they stipulated that the sequence of the photos was accurate.
When the hearing resumed, Ms. Cole-Wilson went over much of the previous testimony again, trying to catch Hoyle in what she perceived as contradictions. She had a problem with the consent to search the cabin, but Hoyle said that at first his tape recorder malfunctioned. Then there was the question of impediments.
She said, “You also testified that there were no gates.”
“That’s correct,” Hoyle said.
“But isn’t there in fact a gate?”
“I didn’t see one.”
“And isn’t there No Trespassing signs on the road?”
“I don’t recall seeing one. There are Private Property signs on this particular property, although I couldn’t tell you where one is today.”
Ms. Cole-Wilson had nothing further, but a long discussion ensued concerning US Forest Service easements through the property, and whether a Walter and Wanda Johnson had once owned the property, which became very heated.
“Are they the predecessors,” Judge LaCasse asked.
“Yes,” Ms. Houston said.
“There’s no evidence of that,” Ms. Moorman screeched with emotion out of all proportion to the matter under discussion.
“That’s what I’m going to decide,” LaCasse said calmly.
The US Forest Service map was moved into evidence, and a BLM map, as well.
LaCasse said, “The court can find the N1 Road and the Bently Ridge Road on it. The section 21 referred to in the deed to Mr. Kolev and depicted on the Forest Service and BLM maps …”
The Bulgarian language translator seemed only to be translating brief phrases — for all anyone knew he could have been relaying borscht recipes. One of the Bulgos looked like he was asleep. The other noticed I was observing them and said something that roused his co-defendant who looked daggers at me. We've had representatives of most of the Earth's peoples angry at our publication, but these were the first Bulgarians. Ms. Moorman was pacing around furiously, both hands full of documents.
Ms. Houston said the easements were designed so the BLM and USFS could access government property. “All are, in fact, unrestricted,” she said.
“Not exclusively,” Moorman insisted vehemently.
Houston agreed, but said it corroborated Hoyle’s testimony that there were no blockages. “It’s open to the public for recreational activities,” she said.
LaCasse and Moorman quarreled over the easement law. Finally, LaCasse said, “So what’s your objection?”
“There’s no evidence the court can use to conclude — ”
“What?! That there’s more than one road — ”
“So you can’t conclude from the evidence before you — ”
“There’s the other roads” —
“You can’t conclude” —
“Why can’t I?”
“The easement may not include this road!”
“So what? What’s your point?”
“Well it’s not relevant! And even if it is I have two other objections.”
“It’s given to the US government.”
“No! It doesn’t mean that at all!”
“But — ”
“There’s absolutely no evidence in this proceeding — ”
“Well, I’m gonna take a giant logical jump, here,” said LaCasse, and conclude that the legal description indicates that they’re related and connected! Hoyle is standing on a road — a public road! He waives the vehicle by — ”
Moorman said something so heated and fast I couldn’t catch it.
He said, “What difference does that make? We’re not trying the title here. The question is: Did Hoyle have a right to be there? You say it’s an unlawful detention in your brief, and I don’t even see a detention!”
“I’m not limited to that.”
“It’s your brief!”
“I think it is a detention. I think you’re drawing inferences from the prosecution,” Moorman added tartly.
Ms. Moorman, if you came in late, has been elected judge. She will replace LaCasse who is retiring. The Moorman-ites consider LaCasse a conservative. They consider themselves The Elect.
The Bulgos were suddenly alert, astounded, it seems, at the intensity of the proceedings. The translator was barely murmuring, and having trouble translating.
LaCasse said, “That’s your characterization of the evidence. I’ll let somebody else make that inference. These are not one-lane jeep trails. I mean, this photograph does not persuade me a car can’t get by. It’s not inconceivable a guy can’t just go around, even if he wants to turn in to the property. It’s just not very persuasive. I mean, why did the guy stop? Hoyle waved ‘em by then he smelled the dope. I went jogging this morning and I can smell the stuff all over. It smells like dead skunks. You smell pot and you see a gun, that’s probable cause.”
“Your objection is overruled!”
I glanced at my watch — my bus was leaving. They were still shouting at each other as I ran out of the courthouse.
Early Tuesday morning, a law enforcement raid team shot an armed man to death in a marijuana garden on Boardman Ridge, not far from Rancho Bulgo.