Costa Rica News – When they say that Costa Rica is “The land of the wanted and unwanted” they are not lying. Just three days after investigators found 984 marijuana plants growing in a building in Palm Beach County in 2011, they say their main suspect took off to Costa Rica.
Levy received no such promise and went on with his life in Costa Rica, federal prosecutors said: He opened a cigar shop in the lobby of a San Jose hotel and bought a home.
More than five years after he left South Florida, Levy was arrested by Costa Rican authorities in May on an unrelated local charge. His lawyer says he was found not guilty in that case.
Because U.S. authorities had obtained an arrest warrant on the pot allegations and sought extradition, Levy was eventually sent back to South Florida last week. He has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of manufacturing marijuana and running a grow house in Lake Worth. If convicted, he faces five to 40 years in federal prison.
The investigation began by chance in February 2011 when two Palm Beach sheriff’s deputies smelled a familiar aroma while they were on bicycle patrol in the 500 block of G Street in Lake Worth, prosecutor Alicia Shick said Wednesday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Drug-detector dogs also indicated there was some kind of illegal product inside and investigators got a search warrant.
Inside, they found 389 marijuana plants that were mature and ready to harvest and another 595 plants in various stages of growth, they said.
The landlord told investigators he had leased the storefront property a few months earlier to a man who called himself “John H. Smith” and said he wanted to store coffee for his rapidly growing business, Java TC Inc. Investigators traced that business to Levy and the landlord identified Levy as the man he knew as Smith.
The electricity bills were unusually high, the landlord said, but Levy offered to reimburse him and said he didn’t want the utility bills in his name because he was “on the down low” and was “working off the books,” the prosecutor said.
Investigators later searched Levy’s Boca Raton home and said they found hydroponic equipment and evidence that some marijuana was grown there.
On Wednesday, Levy’s lawyer Randall Haas tried to persuade a judge to release Levy on bond. He argued that Levy had not really been hiding and said his client paid U.S. income taxes and received Social Security benefits while living in Costa Rica.
Haas questioned whether investigators had any evidence that Levy was involved in growing pot and also raised doubts about the legitimacy of the search of the storefront property.
“That sounds suspect,” Haas remarked in court about the claim that deputies smelled marijuana plants while they were cycling by.
“A grow house with that many plants in it would very commonly give off an odor,” Agent Daniel Tadeo of the Drug Enforcement Administration testified.
The prosecutor told the judge that Levy may not have been hiding but he knew he was wanted in the U.S. She asked the judge to keep Levy jailed while the charges are pending: “Now that we have him here, we’d like to keep him here.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow ruled that Levy will remain jailed, saying he had already proved he is a risk of flight by leaving and refusing to return while under investigation.
According to several Costa-Rican newspaper reports over the years, Levy ran The Havana Room, a cigar shop and lounge in the Little Havana Hotel in San Jose. In one interview with A.M. Costa Rica in late 2011, Levy bemoaned the U.S. ban on importing Cuban cigars, which was still in effect at the time.
“There’s no freedom in America anymore,” the newspaper quoted Levy saying as he puffed on a cigar in his shop. “That’s why people are coming here.”
By Paula McMahon, The Sun Sentinel , Edited by Dan Stevens