POLITICS
03/03/2014 04:06 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2014

The Feds Toss A Pot Shop Worker In Prison, But They Think He's Got A Bright Future

WASHINGTON -- The efforts of Justice Department prosecutors may be sending former pot shop worker Robert Duncan to prison for two years, but they wanted a federal judge to know they think he's a really great guy.

Duncan, 31, is reporting to federal prison on Monday, having been sentenced to two years for helping manage the growing of medical marijuana for a collective of dispensaries starting in 2010. The dispensaries were legal under state law, but federal law considers them criminal. In a memo ahead of his sentencing in December, federal prosecutors with the Eastern District of California called Duncan the "master-grower for the warehouse operation." But they also indicated they really liked him.

"He certainly impressed both the agents and government counsel as a likeable [sic] person with a good attitude who could lead a productive life in the future," Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard J. Bender wrote in the memo. "He is much less likely than the typical defendant to be involved in criminal activity after he gets out of prison."

Duncan was unemployed and his family was financially struggling when he was offered a job at $50,000 per year working for the father of his close friend at a legal pot shop in California. He even sought out legal advice for $800, and the lawyer told him that raids weren't frequent and that the feds would only go after the head of an organization.

"Unfortunately, he received legal advice about this activity only from those with a financial interest in the marijuana industry and drank the Coolaide [sic] with those around him," Bender, the federal prosecutor who works under U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner, wrote in the sentencing memo.

"In the end, he was soon involved in a fast growing illegal business that caught the attention of law enforcement," Bender wrote. "In the end, defendant Duncan did not exercise mature judgment but, given his age and circumstances, his faulty decision making is somewhat easier to understand."

In fact, it was Duncan's maturity that contributed to his prosecution, said his attorney, Thomas A. Johnson. When police raided the growhouse, Duncan quickly told them he was in charge and that they should direct questions to him and not other workers. "There's a dozen people there, and Robert's there, and so they say, 'Whose warehouse is this?" Johnson told HuffPost. "Robert says, 'Don't talk to them, I'm the person who's kind of in charge here, these are just worker bees. That probably was the difference in getting him charged. That's ironic and terrible, but it happened ... Robert's statement that he was the sort-of-supervisor, they used that against him."

Johnson said that prosecutors initially recommended 78 months, but brought the sentence down after Duncan showed pay stubs that demonstrated his low level of involvement. "They realized at that point that Robert was a really good kid, I think. They knew that. Robert has never committed a crime in his life," said Johnson. "It's just a random application of the federal drug enforcement laws. He was literally at the wrong place at the wrong time."

The Huffington Post will interview Duncan live as he surrenders to prison. Visit this page to be alerted when the segment goes live. Learn more about Duncan's case and sign a petition calling for his release here.

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