POSTED: 11:01 a.m. HST, Apr 28, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 3:20 p.m. HST, Apr 28, 2014
A Big Island man who openly used his ministry to promote marijuana use was expected to be sentenced Monday in federal court for possessing nearly 300 pot plants as part of a distribution ring.
Roger Christie of Hilo pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess marijuana plants.
The charge carries a minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 40 years in prison. Federal prosecutors are recommending five years in prison followed by four years of supervised release.
His wife, Sherryanne Christie, was also expected to be sentenced Monday following her husband's hearing.
Roger Christie, the founder of the Hawaii Cannabis Ministry, also known as the THC Ministry, and his wife have tried to fight the charges on religious grounds.
The couple pleaded guilty after U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled against allowing a defense based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Prosecutors say religion was a front for drug trafficking. They say ministry members paid "donations" in exchange for marijuana.
Christie "was always pushing the limits to see how far he could go in his marijuana trafficking activities under the auspices of the ministry," prosecutors said in court documents filed last week. "Christie was clearly in this marijuana trafficking business for financial gain, inasmuch as the ministry's marijuana and associated paraphernalia sales ... were the sole source of income to sustain co-defendant Sherryanne L. Christie ... and himself."
The documents state the couple lived a modest but comfortable lifestyle. Roger Christie also pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to file a tax return. As part of his plea agreement, he will forfeit his apartment and more than $21,000 seized by federal agents.
A federal grand jury indicted the Christies and 12 others on marijuana trafficking counts after a 2010 raid of the ministry. Christie has been in federal detention since, while his wife has been free on bail.