SoHum Woman Sentenced to a Year for Damaging National Land With Marijuana Grow

Department of Justice FeaturePress release from Department of Justice:

Melinda Van Horne was sentenced…to 12 months and a day in prison for damaging national conservation land through her marijuana cultivation operation, announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch.

Van Horne, 43, of Whitethorn, pleaded guilty on March 23, 2016, to depredation against the property of the United States.  According to the plea agreement, Van Horne admitted to causing over $100,000 in environmental damage to federal lands in the King Range National Conservation Area through her marijuana cultivation operation.  In October 2007, Van Horne purchased a house next to Paradise Ridge in Humboldt County, Calif.  Paradise Ridge is part of a congressionally designated National Conservation Area administered by the Bureau of Land Management for the conservation and protection of public lands for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.  In 2008, Van Horne made a proposal to the government offering to trade portions of her private property in exchange for the federal conservation land.  The Bureau of Land Management rejected the trade based on the national conservation status of the land.  Van Horne nonetheless decided to proceed with her marijuana cultivation operation, causing substantial damage to the protected area.

“Marijuana cultivation operations on public lands present an ongoing threat to these important national resources,” said United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch.  “This office will protect these vital wilderness areas from the marijuana growers who endanger public safety and leave environmental destruction in their wake.”

With Van Horne’s consent and knowledge, and later at her direction, vegetation was stripped from portions of the federally managed conservation area, land was excavated and graded, and eleven greenhouses and other structures were constructed on federal lands.  The work was done in order to grow marijuana plants for sale.  Van Horne also used facilities that diverted water from the nearby Bridge Creek to irrigate the marijuana plants.  The bulldozing and excavation of federal land caused that land to become unstable and to erode into two rivers that provide crucial spawning and rearing habitats for threatened and federally protected salmon and steelhead.

In September 2013, agents executing warrants to search the property found 1,654 marijuana plants growing on federal land and in the garage of the adjoining house.  The agents also found over 17 kilograms of marijuana at another location where Van Horne was residing. Van Horne admitted growing marijuana with at least five other people and admitted she was one of the organizers of the operation.

Van Horne was indicted by a federal Grand Jury on November 17, 2015.  She was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846; possession with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(vii); possession with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(C); maintaining a place for manufacturing marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 856(a); and depredation against property of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361.  Under the plea agreement, Van Horne pleaded guilty to the depredation against property of the United States.

The sentence was handed down by the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, U.S. District Judge, following a guilty plea to depredation against property of the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361.   In addition to the prison term, Judge Breyer also sentenced the defendant to perform 300 hours of community service, ordered the defendant to pay restitution, and ordered her to serve a three-year period of supervised release. Bureau of Land Management engineers estimate the cost to repair the damage at $107,754, which Van Horne has agreed to pay as restitution in connection with her guilty plea.  The defendant will begin serving the sentence on November 4, 2016.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rita F. Lin is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Theresa Benitez, Rawaty Yim, and Marina Ponomarchuk.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the Bureau of Land Management and Drug Enforcement Administration

Earlier Chapter: SoHum Woman Pleads Guilty to Excavating Federal Lands to Build Eleven Greenhouses



  • Food for thought

    What a special kind of stupid….

  • Awsome job catching her,but didn’t get em all to they will go else where.hope they can repair the land.

  • shameful behavior. too bad there’s no photo. I’d like to know what greed personified looks like.

    • @wants to know there is no photo because all she did was clear a old skid road, I was watching the case, even the judge said” is this all you have”BLM is a dangerous neighbor be wary if you border them.

  • Henchman Of Justice

    Well, one down, more to go.

    She got it worse than a foreign national from Mexico or Bulgaria.

    Wondering how many days in a federal pent house the illegal immigrant grower stays.

    • Why is there not stories like this about the mega cartel grows on federal land? Why do we not hear about their court or penalties? They are by far the worst environmental damages…what about the mexicants that damed up the creek so they could mix their pesticides in the creek itself??(same area.. Paradise Ridge).I want to hear about these maggot’s prison time.

  • A yr is a short stay in jail ,for her crime geez .

  • Sad day.

  • I would be wary of judging someone from an article you read about someone who took a plea bargain. You say you would like to see a picture to see what greed personified looked like? I’d like to see your name to see what a coward who hides behind a fake name looks like! There is so much more to this story and also so much less as she agreed to a plea bargain which is basically an umbrella that is much broader than the actual “damage” that was caused. Kym Kemp, I understand free speech but these vicious comments by some of your readers are extremely hurtful. I understand you are encouraging dialogue but I feel very strongly that people should have to use their real names in the comments. How many people would post such vindictive comments then?

    • Perfect microcosm for our country… I’m not trying to be mean, but it seems sometimes the Misspelling Typo is running this country, always the angriest, loudest, and least interested in nuance or knowledge.

    • Datso, I understand that when people care about the defendants, it is very hard to hear people speak out against them. And I used to wonder if removing anonymous comments would make people more cautious before they wrote, however, if you read Facebook comments, you know that doesn’t work. And, removing anonymity removes people’s ability to speak out without fear of reprisals.

      You are right to urge readers to “be wary of judging someone from an article.” However, the community needs to discuss in order to set standards on what behavior is acceptable. Ms. Van Horne has a good reputation in her local community. Many of her neighbors appear to feel she was unfairly dealt with. But the charges she pled guilty to are not acceptable to a large chunk of the community. Commenters, even anonymous ones, have to be able to freely discuss this as we all come to an understanding of what is and is not acceptable to do.

      Remember that if I remove the opinion, it doesn’t make it go away. Only discussion does that. The best response to opinions you don’t agree with is a calm, intelligent response laying out your side.

      • How is “what a special kind of stupid” beneficial to the discussion of what is acceptable or not regarding the environment and marijuana? That’s a hurtful, intentional, belligerent attack on someone’s character from some coward hiding behind a fake name.

        • Sleepy Alligator

          So would knowing the name of whoever posts the hurtful comment make it less hurtful? And why would anyone even care what some stranger types about them?

        • Not every comment adds to the conversation (though I would argue that this comment makes its clear how a segment of the community feels about the charges Van Horne pled guilty to) but excluding all anonymous comments means that many thoughtful comments (see Trimboldcino’s below) would also be removed.

          Rather than attacking the medium whereby you hear that this person that you care about is being vilified, I believe that responding with rational arguments about why they are not a villain is most likely to change people’s minds…or at least open them a bit. If the comment is deleted, the opinion they have done wrong isn’t likely to change, your facts about the situation, however, might change not only the commenter’s opinion but the opinion of many others who read this website.

        • Wee-wee! Does that add to the “conversation”? Whadya mean “no”?

        • same as it ever was

          you calling anonymous commenters ‘cowards’ pretty much explains why people are hesitant to use their real names.
          You sound like a belligerent thug.

          • I ask people to refrain from calling other commenters names as it totally derails conversation. I will delete or edit out further comments that do that.

            • I’m gonna call you wonderful Kym. Being up on all the news from a few sparse and difficult outlets is one thing..
              but you’re also so diplomatic! The spine of an Amy Goodman. (were I her I’d have had a gun to my head long ago)
              We’re infinitely grateful for your embrace of this calling as the online news feed for SoHum and the kind of news Sohum wants.
              you can delete this just wanted to say thanks. apparently in a very wordy way.

      • Kym: Well said and Well done. Is a photo available? And what did happen to the other four? af

    • She is a greedhead. No one has posted anything as rude or viscous as what she did to OUR land! Stop enabling bad behavior.

    • I love you, Datso.

  • First, anything stemming from a Federal indictment should be viewed with a questioning eye. Pile up the charges, make it look insurmountable, drop the unprovable ones (even though you convinced the Grand Jury to indict – along with indicting the proverbial co-conspirator ham sandwich) and notch your prosecutorial belt. None of us know the truth here, other than she pleaded, got a year, will do 85% of that time on good behavior (Federal rule – no parole) and carry this around for the rest of her life. If, in fact, she DID do $100K in damages, she got a good smack in the head. Funny how the far right crowd wants this one prosecuted to the nth degree, but when it’s big business polluting and raping public resources they cheer the destruction on. She should have done it under a corporate umbrella – there’d be no jail time unless they could charge her under RICO. Brilliant.

  • You wouldn’t believe the people who are growing,just for money.we have built more places for folks,legit ok done right.not hurting their land not stealing water not using chemical ‘ s and not having more than ever could smoke.then we see greed at its finest.we never ever say what or where or who!!but I’m shocked.

    • She is an old timer, who’s help build this community, don’t believe all you read. She has done far more for this land than damage, she trespassed 10feet, they make it sound as if she did a gorilla grow on federal land, and I know for a fact she didn’t take a drop of water from the creeks, this press release is bs.

  • She knowingly grew on public land. I wonder if she gave up the names of the other five people in order to only get one year. In my opinion the rapidly declining salmon habitat is more important than one year in prison.

    • A friend of mine did a year in Lake Co. because she refused to name her partners. It’s always possible as long as there’s honor. Just saying. af

    • @fperkin Really she is not a nark, they stated 5 people worked there based on camera evidence, therfore making her an “organizer/leader” thus making her more of a so called criminal so as to take away her “safty valve” which would let her go, based on it being her first offence. If she narked she would be doing NO time, and we also would know who the illusive “5” workers are, no one was busted or detained or spoken about in connection to this case,she had to plead guilty to the prosecutions terms so all involved would NOT be called into court or a trial. Give her a break, she is taking full responsibility, paying restitution, and now serving a year in federal prison. Not to mention she’s the one who was narked on by a current cooperating federal informant, who is still free to this day.Be very careful when making such strong statements, if you don’t actually know, the truth always comes out eventually.

  • Hope this case does not foretell of what may occur when people cause notice to themselves (as she did in seeking the land swap), like when we apply to the government(s) to grow (medical) marijuana legally, only to actually be placed on a list of people the agencies now have more info about, and which gives them a better platform from which to ‘leap’ your way??? (Also wonder if I have ever written such a run-on sentence 😮 !)

    • Sleepy Alligator

      The 11 greenhouses just might have been part of the causing notice to oneself also.

    • You are very right to worry, I have been very close and very informed in this case and they are making an example of her, and possibly of the registered grows, truth is she purchased the land with the land trade in place, long before her,BLM never denied it, that’s a complete lie. They are just stating this to make a harsh example of her.

  • Hugo Phuckurselph

    Is ‘Datso’ a real name or a fake name? Hmmm….

    • That’s my real name.

      • It’s a fine name. No sarcasm inteneded.

      • A native name!

      • Thank you Datso,your name means you are wonderful,brave, and fair. If the community at large knew the truth and her side of this inditement they might understand, she cannot speak for herself, but she sees and hears these comments, snd ferlings can get hurt deeply,we all have feelings and some sort of ties to this bubble economy. If they knew the circumstances and the truth they would see 90% of the community have made these types of missteps. No where have I read there were chemical damages, the excavation done was done by one of the best in the county, he’s known for cleaning up grows,her greatest crime was she failed to get her property lines surveyed, something many of us have done,her property bordered blm. Google earth it, those who know her, know she cares for this land, community and environment, she had NOT one environmental infraction! This article is clearly the prosocuctions side of things, and we know how they sku things. I appreciate you sticking up for my friend, who is one of the kindest, most giving, truthful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

  • It seems common that some People want to limit Folks’ 1st Amendement rights when they don’t like what they hear.

    • Triniboldticino

      There are no 1st Amendment rights available when the offender and recipients are private persons and not the Government. The Constitution proscribes GOVERNMENT ACTION. Not the “deleting” of offensive name calling and posts in a news blog.

  • I doubt if she is stupid. She probably just got caught up in the “Everybody’d doing it and law enforcement kind of looks the other way. Your chances of getting busted are slim. They can’t bust everybody, they don’t have the personnel.” In other words, she took a calculated risk and lost this time.

  • LeAnna Carson-Hansen

    Will she be paying restitution money to repair the environmental damages?

    Yes I am posting under my legal name.

    It this age of little regard to the environment from mega growers I find it astonishing that someone is all bummed out over “I understand free speech but these vicious comments by some of your readers are extremely hurtful.”

    Yes, free speech is painful when folks expressed their disdain for the actions of others that cause harm to the land and to people.

    And I hope she does not need medical or dental care while incarcerated. Sadly the quantity and quality of services can be lacking while housed in a correctional facility.

  • As stated, unless you know this person. You cannot judge. Its not my place to share her business, but if i did, all of the negative people would feel very poorly about themselves.

    • I don’t know her, but I know of her actions. And, it is perfectly sane, and normal, to judge someone by their actions. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

  • I’m glad she is going to jail; she did me wrong, in an unrelated matter, and now she will pay. Good.

    • Wow, you are glad a mother is going to jail, what might your accountibility be in this situation

    • @mingo, upset your weed got lost in a deal gone wrong, sorry there’s no insurance on weed.lucky they didn’t kill her, own your side of it, or be quiet, we all know what you did to her and her family.oooohhhhhh

    • Heather Kornberg

      @Mingo- Back to what Datso said earlier; you should post this stuff under your real name. It is slanderous. You are truly an evil person for this comment. Shame on you.

  • Compassion its only a plant

    2nd Hand Knowledge said she did this for her child …………….

  • It’s also been said that the charges against her are blown out of proportion. The location of the greenhouses and the majority of the garden development may not have actually been on BLM land. It would be interesting to see some before and after pictures of the restoration work BLM does with the $100000 fine they collect. The Feds have a lot a time and money to spend. look at other recent pot busts involving private land owners neighboring federal land.

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