Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Accused pot farmer jumps bail

Second suspect faces trial later this month

Express Staff Writer

Leobardo Vega Eduardo Mariscal-Castellon

A man arrested in a major marijuana bust last summer near Carey has jumped bail and become a fugitive from justice.

Leobardo Vega, 31, has not been heard from since he posted $20,000 bond and was released from the Blaine County Jail in early October, according 5th District Court records. A warrant was issued for his arrest in November by 5th District Court Judge Barry Wood.

Meanwhile, a second suspect in the case, 31-year-old Eduardo Mariscal-Castellon, faces a jury trial scheduled to start Jan. 31. Both Vega and Mariscal-Castellon listed Heyburn addresses when they were arrested.

The two have been charged by a Blaine County grand jury indictment with one felony count each of trafficking in marijuana and one felony count each of "failure to affix illegal drug tax stamps."

Vega and Mariscal-Castellon were arrested Sept. 4 when the Blaine County Sheriff's Office raided a marijuana growing operation near Little Wood Reservoir north of Carey. Sheriff's officers, with the assistance of several other law enforcement agencies, confiscated some 2,000 4- to 6-feet tall marijuana plants and burned most of them at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station north of Hailey.

In another development, charges of grand theft have been dismissed against Vega and Mariscal-Castellon. After they were arrested, the two men were accused of being in possession of a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder that the sheriff's office said was stolen from Pasco, Wash.

According to court records, the "grand theft by possession of stolen property" charges were dismissed against Vega and Mariscal-Castellon because of "the inability to locate the auto owner/victim."

Court records further indicate that Vega is a legal U.S. resident while Mariscal-Castellon is suspected of being an illegal immigrant, who could be subject to arrest by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency if released from jail.

Bond on the drug charges was set at $50,000 each when Vega and Mariscal-Castellon were arraigned on Oct. 2, 2006, in 5th District Court on the grand jury charges.

Public Defender Cheri Hicks, of Hailey, was appointed to represent Mariscal-Castellon, while Vega retained his own attorney, A. Elizabeth Burr-Jones, of Burley.

Burr-Jones successfully argued on Oct. 6 to have Vega's bond reduced to $20,000. According to court records, Vega posted bond that day, was released from jail and hasn't been heard from since.

Burr-Jones later informed the court that Vega had not been in contact with her as required under the terms of his release from jail. On Nov. 21, 2006, Judge Wood allowed Burr-Jones to withdraw as Vega's attorney, issued the arrest warrant and notified Vega's bonding company, American Eagle Bail Bonds, of Ketchum, that the $20,000 bail amount was forfeited.

Blaine County Sheriff's Detective Steve Harkins, the lead investigator on the case, said he expects Vega to be apprehended in the near future. If not, Mariscal-Castellon will be tried separately from Vega.

"We have a good case on both of them, and eventually he'll (Vega) be arrested. We'll get him," Harkins said.

Judge Wood was appointed to hear the cases against Vega and Mariscal-Castellon after Blaine County 5th District Court Judge Robert Elgee disqualified himself at the request of Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas.

Thomas, who was not required to state a reason in his motion to disqualify Elgee, has filed motions for Elgee's disqualification in at least six cases since early September.

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