Defendant denies role in pot operation

He says that he had no knowledge of the marijuana farm growing in his friend's house.

Published August 22, 2006

TAMPA - Herbert Ferrell Jr. said he was completely surprised when he found hundreds of marijuana plants growing in the basement of his friend's home.

Weakened by cancer, Ferrell said, he fled the home as soon as possible, fearing he would have a physical reaction to the plants.

"I was shocked," Ferrell told jurors Monday. "The only thing I can think of is I really screwed up and walked into something that could be a death sentence for me."

Ferrell is on trial in U.S. District Court on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 marijuana plants. If convicted, he could get a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Ferrell told jurors he did not participate in a multimillion-dollar plan to grow marijuana in some of the nicest neighborhoods in Tampa Bay. The scheme ended with the arrest of 11 people, mostly from Tampa.

The other defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Ferrell, the owner of a Tampa skin cancer detection company called Dermal Screenings Inc., said his business interests were legitimate.

Throughout the trial, jurors listened to Ferrell, who was caught on tape discussing the marijuana growing business by an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration. But Monday was the first time Ferrell got to tell his side of the story in person.

Ferrell told jurors he was hoping to convince Daniel DelPiano, a wealthy businessman from Alpharetta, Ga., to invest in his medical company. When DelPiano got caught up with several of Ferrell's associates on a scheme to create indoor marijuana farms, Ferrell said he went along with it because he wanted to do business with DelPiano.

However, he did not participate in the plan, Ferrell told jurors.

Later, DelPiano sent a representative to Tampa to learn about the marijuana growing business in hopes of franchising the business in the Atlanta area. The representative, Harvey "Duke" Faglier, turned out to be a DEA informant.

Ferrell said he assisted Faglier because he feared him. He said Faglier talked about killing people and could fly into a violent rage.

"He had a Jekyll-Hyde personality," Ferrell said of Faglier.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Porcelli used Ferrell's own words to raise questions about his testimony.

Porcelli played tapes where Ferrell named the supplies needed to start growing the marijuana and how much money each harvest would bring.

In one tape, Ferrell can be heard saying he has invested $65,000 in one indoor marijuana farm. In another, he said he planned to transport the harvested marijuana to Miami in three or four trips.

Ferrell said his words were being taken out of context.

"You're not thinking about every single word you're saying," Ferrell said.

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