tampabay.com

Tapes give how-to on marijuana farms

Listening this week are jurors in the trial of a man accused of masterminding a chain of indoor grow houses in upscale tracts.

By CARRIE WEIMAR
Published August 16, 2006


TAMPA - Herbert Ferrell Jr. sounded like an enthusiastic real estate agent on the recording, boasting about the home's high ceilings and top-of-the-line electrical and water filtration systems.

But Ferrell wasn't trying to sell his companions a piece of property. He was telling them what it takes to create an indoor marijuana farm, prosecutors said. And one of his listeners was wearing a wire.

Now Ferrell is on trial in U.S. District Court in Tampa for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants. Prosecutors say he masterminded an elaborate, multimillion-dollar drug operation in some of the Tampa Bay area's nicest neighborhoods.

The scheme involved 11 people, most of them from Tampa. All but Ferrell have already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The group owned or rented 10 houses and apartments in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, court records show. They purposefully sought out nice neighborhoods to avoid detection by police, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, jurors heard several recordings made by informers posing as wealthy investors. The informers told Ferrell they planned to "franchise" his business in the Atlanta area.

Harvey "Duke" Faglier, a former police officer and an informer for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told Ferrell he wanted to learn everything about his operation and moved to Florida to study it in depth.

According to court documents, Ferrell started setting up relationships with real estate agents more than 10 years ago in Georgia to find homes to grow marijuana before he brought the operation to Florida in late 2004.

Faglier made more than a dozen recordings - both video and audio - of his meetings with Ferrell. On the tapes, Ferrell can be heard instructing Faglier on the best way to grow hydroponic marijuana plants: from where to buy supplies to how to rig the electrical system for the grow lights.

"He came across as being very knowledgeable about every aspect of the marijuana business," Faglier told jurors.

Faglier also videotaped a visit to a grow house in Hudson, which he said was operated by Ferrell and his crew. The tape showed hundreds of marijuana plants.

Ferrell's attorney, Joseph C. Bodiford, maintained his client was trapped by the government's informers. He called Faglier a "beast" who manipulated his client through intimidation.

"Herb Ferrell was the victim in this case," Bodiford said.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Porcelli noted that Ferrell was seen on videotape asking Faglier to join him for dinner and for a ride on his private plane.

"Did you ask him to do that?" Porcelli asked.

"No," Faglier replied. "He invited me."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at 813 226-3416 or cweimar@sptimes.com.