Judge doesn’t buy marijuana grow-op story

One person convicted and another acquitted in connection with 980-plant operation taken down in rural Oliver

An attempt to pin the blame for a marijuana grow-op on two mystery men who paid $800 a month for storage space inside a garage in rural Oliver proved too rich for a judge in Penticton.

Blaine Vickers was convicted Thursday of production of a controlled substance, possession for the purpose of trafficking and fraudulent consumption of electricity in connection with the 980-plant setup discovered in February 2013.

Co-accused Jessica Stelkia, who was charged with only the production and possession offences, was acquitted.

Court heard during the two-day trial this week in B.C Supreme Court that police executed a search warrant at the residential property on Green Lake Road after receiving a tip from FortisBC about suspected electricity theft.

Mounties found the grow-op, powered by an electricity meter bypass, inside a walled-off portion of a detached three-bay garage approximately 20 metres from a home Vickers rented from his father’s girlfriend and for which he paid the utility bills.

Vickers testified that in December 2012, before heading to Alberta to work, he leased the space that housed the grow-op to two men who paid him $800 a month ostensibly to use it for storage.

Justice Austin Cullen rejected Vickers’ testimony.

“Anyone seeking legitimate storage could find a much more convenient location than that,” Cullen said.

“By contrast, anyone seeking a location for a grow-operation would find its very remoteness an attractive feature.”

He also cast doubt on the rental agreement Vickers produced at trial that showed the name of the two men to whom he said he rented the space, but which did not contain any contact information for them.

Cullen called the agreement a “contrived attempt” by Vickers to distance himself from the grow-op.

The judge did, however, accept Stelkia’s testimony

She said she moved into the home in mid-December 2012 at the request of her then-boyfriend Vickers to look after the house and his dog while he was away in Alberta.

Stelkia testified that she worked long hours and occasionally saw two men coming and going from the garage, but never spoke to them. She said she did get curious and sneak a peek at the grow-op about a week before it was discovered, but opted not to tell police or Vickers for fear of what might happen to her.

“It was clear she was at best an occupant of the (home) at the invitation of the accused Mr. Vickers,” Cullen said.

Vickers remains free on bail and is due back in court Feb. 2 to set a date for sentencing.

Both he and Stelkia declined comment outside court.