By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
Triple murders, arson, attempted murder, stalking and assault with a deadly weapon all stem from the latest Prohibition problem facing West Hollywood – the medical versus recreational marijuana dilemma.
Medical marijuana in California has bought out the best and the worst among us. On one hand, you have people such as Don Duncan operating a dispensary on West Hollywood’s Eastside from the heart space of Americans For Safe Access, a healing modality.
Thousands, tens of thousands of people get surcease from a panoply of illnesses and side effects from treatment of illness through the use of medical marijuana. To many with cancer or AIDS, it is the only thing that stirs hunger enough to fuel feeble bodies.
On the other hand, people motivated by greed see the millions of dollars they can glean from people who want to “skirt” the system by posing as medicinal users, but who in reality smoke recreationally. These people will stop at nothing – not even triple murder – to get rich from a system that rewards crime. In 2010, then-Sheriff Lee Baca reacted strongly against a triple murder in WeHo, saying, “the medicinal marijuana program… has been hijacked by underground drug dealing criminals.”
Last week one of those “underground drug dealing criminals” pleaded guilty to a number of felonies committed during a turf war over one of those valuable operations. he Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Andrew Harrison Kramer, age 39, pleaded guilty on Thursday to conspiracy to commit home invasion robbery, stalking and attempt to burn.
Added to those charges, he pleaded guilty to three counts of arson of uninhabited structure and two counts of arson, and he admitted allegations that an accelerant was used, said Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose.
And we’ll hear more about the nexus between marijuana and murder in coming months, when an alleged triple killer begins his trial.
All over drugs and money.
In 2004 West Hollywood became the focus of an incursion by San Francisco and Oakland dispensaries hoping to get a foothold in the Southland. West Hollywood has a golden reputation in medical marijuana – after all, a resident of the city was mostly responsible for writing Proposition 205, the initiative that legalized medical pot, and a former-council member and the city’s then-assembly member Paul Koretz, along with Scott Imler, wrote the state law (AB 420) that provides the legal framework for its operation.
Enter Andrew Kramer, who took a lease on Sunset Boulevard from the George and Nansee Lanning family to operate the Sunset Shoppe. The store, on the 8921 Sunset Boulevard, was also known as the Sunset Super Shoppe and the Compassionate Healing Center of West Hollywood.
By 2008, and the what actually happened remains a subject of dispute, either Mr. Kramer had turned the shop over the the Lannings or he had tried to close the shop down and the Lannnings, rather than lease to another dispensary, took over the business.
Because it was trying to get a handle on the licenses and number of dispensaries allowed in city limits, West Hollywood saw things as did Mr. Kramer, and since that time, the Sunset Super Shop (AKA: Compassionate Healing Center of West Hollywood LLC) operated by Nansee Lanning, the Lanning Family Trust, George Lanning and Justin Lanning had been sued by the city demanding that it cease operations; as a result of the suit and the foreclosure of the property by the lender, the city received a $48,000 judgment.
No sooner did that suit land, but the Lannings counter-sued.
They claimed that the “city [was] allying itself with Kramer to keep him in business and put them out of business. The Lannings claim to have bought the place in Dec. 2007 and kept and paid Kramer as consultant while he was being paid out, a customary practice in a transition.
“They released him after the $1 million debt was settled on or about July 16, 2008. On July 18, 2008, Kramer locks the Lannings out of the building and resumes operation of the club. The City stands by and allows Kramer to operate as though nothing had happened until he was evicted as a result of a court ruling in June, 2009. On April 29, 2009, the day that judge ruled in favor of the Lannings, Kramer delivers a letter officially closing Sunset Shop. Yet between April 29, 2009 and June 2009 when evicted, and despite his letter stating his intentions to the contrary, he sells marijuana from the Sunset Boulevard storefront,” he said.
That same month, Kimberly Jean Maybee, on allegedly lit and threw a firebomb at the Sunset Shop’s (at 8919 Sunset Boulevard) front window “with intent to wrongfully injure and destroy property.”
Seven months later, another arsonist doused the property with gasoline and started a fire.
The latter incident led to the discovery of an illegal grow room for marijuana in the upstairs of the building – something expressly prohibited by law. The shop was closed by West Hollywood Building Inspector Steve Bailey when he uncovered unpermitted electrical work that he said posed “a significant safety hazard.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Kramer took control of another WeHo pot dispensary, Zen Healing, a medical marijuana outlet at 8464 Santa Monica Boulevard, where he posed as an upright, even righteous, member of the community.
In December of 2012, he launched what he called the “Veteran Patient Program,” which provided veteran patients that provide proof of military service with a free quarter of high-quality medicine every harvest. As much media attention as that announcement garnered, though, clients began to report back that he had reneged on at least three occasions.
But he hadn’t let go of his grudge against the Lannings, who he repeatedly told others “stole the store.” During this time of controversy, Mr. Kramer admittedly broke into his old shop to attempt to take it back.
During this time, the Lannings’ Beverly Hills home was set ablaze twice and a Lanning-owned house under construction on San Vicente Boulevard in WeHo was destroyed by an arson fire. Horrifically, on another occasion, four men burst into the Lanning’s Beverly Hills home and struck Mr. Lanning’s wife, Nansee, in the head with a metal bar, also punching and kicking his son, Justin.
Besides the extralegal criminal activity, the Lannings had their own legal trouble with the West Hollywood authorities. In early 2011, the Lannings attempted to file bankruptcy to get out from under their obligations, but the city thwarted them, winning a court victory in September, 2011, that would prevent them from doing so.
In late 2012, the Lannings apparently having stopped making their mortgage payments, they lost the property to a foreclosure action and were evicted by the bank as tenants.
They also, by all appearances, stopped paying their vendors. One of those vendors sent a final demand letter for the $7,326 the Lannings owe him late last month for medical marijuana delivered to the Lannings for sale in May and August of 2012.
Mr. Kramer has four co-defendants -
*Ronald Samuel, 40, charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count each of assault with a deadly weapon, assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and first-degree burglary;
*Rene Johnson, 50, charged with two counts of attempted murder and one count each of attempt to burn, arson of an inhabited structure, arson of a structure or forest and use of a destructive device/explosive to injure or destroy;
*Grace Cox, 49, charged with one count each of arson of a structure or forest and use of a destructive device/explosive to injure or destroy; and
*Jonathan Livingston, 43, charged with one count of arson of an inhabited structure.
The West Hollywood resident will be sentenced to 25 years in state prison when he returns to court on April 9 for sentencing before Judge Michael Pastor. Kramer also will face restitution that could total as much as $1 million, Rose said.
This plea deal marks the end for Mr. Kramer’s judicial journey, even though he had also faced multiple possible charges based on marijuana trafficking from the federal government.
As we reported here on WeHo News, in early April, 2013, DEA agents serving search warrants seized approximately 352,700 grams of marijuana, approximately 44,660 grams of hashish, approximately 12,310 grams of hash oil, approximately 216,860 grams of various edibles containing marijuana, and $92,962 United States Currency from Zen Healing.
According to the US Attorney’s office spokesperson, Andrew Kramer is a national, nay even an international, marijuana king-pin, and they are out to prove it. Here is what the feds charge:
“Andrew Kramer is the head of a marijuana trafficking organization (“DTO”) operating in the Los Angeles, California area that distributes marijuana retail through his store locations, as well as, wholesale to other marijuana stores.
“[Mr.] Kramer also directed and/or is involved in the distribution of marijuana to other areas of the United States, including New Jersey, South Carolina, and North Carolina.”
Mr. Kramer, who sits in the Los Angeles jail awaiting trial on those four dozen or so charges, also stands accused of “marijuana trafficking” by Patrick L. Kelly, Special Agent for the DEA’s anti-marijuana task force.
Special agent Kelly says that since 2006 the DEA has held “several enforcement actions… against Kramer’s drug trafficking operation” but Zen Healing continued to operate long after Mr. Kramer was jailed, apparently forcing their hand.
In what seems to be an overlap of state and federal charges against him, the search warrant charges that Mr. Kramer “resorted to violence, including… home invasions and arson.. in order to retaliate against business associates with whom he has had disagreements related to his drug trafficking operation.”
But they were looking hard for his money, estimating that he had squirrelled away millions, saying, “ As a likely result [emphasis ours] of multiple monetary seizures by law enforcement during the last several years and his arrest in April 2013 on arson and attempted murder related charges being currently prosecuted by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, [Mr.] Kramer has taken several measures to hide the existence of his assets with the use of family members, businesses, and in and out of state corporations.”
Another line asks agents to keep an eye out for international pots of gold. Apparently Mr. Kramer sought to expand his operations into Brazil, probably farming it there; the DEA wanted to know more. The case the DEA seemed to be making cast Mr. Kramer as a modern marijuana mobster posing as a medical marijuana dispensary operator.
To demonstrate that, Mr. Kelly says he has financial evidence showing that since 2006 in excess of $2.25 million in marijuana-derived money have been seized from Mr. Kramer by the federal government, including one $1.25 million seizure in 2011.
Even so, according to a spokesperson for the DEA, Thom Mrozek, the federal government will not bring charges against him for drug trafficking.
Medical marijuana in West Hollywood has been, at times, a real flash point, especially since the Bush Administration raided the city’s model dispensary in 2001, which cost the city ownership of a building worth $300,000. Its operator, Scott Imler, was arrested and spent over two years fighting for exoneration.
Not long after the invasion of medical marijuana clubs in West Hollywood during 2004/2005 (at their height, eight dispensaries operated within the city limits of 1.9 sq. miles), Larry Roger Kristich and partners James Carberry and James Ealy, opened the “Compassionate Caregivers” medical marijuana dispensary, also known as the “Yellow House” in West Hollywood.
Not long after opening in September, 2004, LAPD narco squad officers and Federal Internal Revenue (IRS) agents raided the dispensary, arresting 14 people and seizing 800 pounds of marijuana product (wholesale value, $2.5 million; retail value over $5 million) and between $300-500,000 in cash.
The trio had been bent on creating a “chain” of stores up and down the coast, what one prosecutor called the “McDonald’s of pot clubs.” Mr. Kristich was sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison for operating the Yellow House and six others scattered across the state.
By 2007 the action had become hot and heavy in WeHo, with the LAPD and DEA coming into the city numerous times to raid dispensaries. In January, 2007, Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers conducted five simultaneous raids on West Hollywood medical marijuana dispensaries.
Then, the DEA again raided West Hollywood Caregivers Group March 6, less than eight weeks after raiding it in January, bringing out scores of protesters who used non-violent means to impede the agents’ actions. Two protesters were taken into custody by West Hollywood Sheriffs for obstructing a peace officer during the raid, cited and released on their own cognizance.
Witnesses present said that the DEA took the dispensary’s product and cash, but detained and arrested no one.
Later reports from law enforcement officials, however, stated that they recovered arms from the club, including a shotgun and pistol.
In 2010, three men were found shot dead in a Kings Road condo.
Sources came forward to indicate a possible connection between the deaths and marijuana.
A few days later, police arrested Harold Yong Park, age 31, and a Korean-American residing in Hollywood, during a traffic stop at roughly 11 am on Monday, August 30 in Lomita – with four to five pounds of marijuana in his car.
Mr. Park, even though detectives claim that he confessed to the killings, pleaded not guilty when arraigned. He faces a hearing on May 30 for motions and to set a trial date.
Where drugs that are both legal and illegal depending on the setting are involved, you will find people who use the product to fulfill their own wants and desires. When the desire to help people heal their bodies turns into beating women with steel poles, frankly, jail is a very good place to store you away for a while.