A Houston septic tank pumper caught with 1,700 marijuana plants in 2011, when a neighbor reported raw sewage coming from his property, pleaded guilty to the federal drug charge Wednesday.
Kenneth Champ, 49 and the owner of Champ Septic, is set to change his plea in state court later this month for various environmental crimes related to the sewage release from his pumping truck. Champ is also charged with assault and weapons misconduct after the 2011 incident that led to the discovery of his grow operation.
A neighbor told authorities in September that she suspected Champ was dumping sewage from his truck into a shoddy leach field made of old tires, and that the human excrement was running into a creek that flowed into the Little Susitna River. At the time, a reddish sludge and bits of toilet paper could be seen in slow-moving groundwater on the property.
Champ refused to talk to an Alaska State Trooper investigating the report and told a dispatcher he was going to shoot the trooper if he didn't leave, according to the trooper's affidavit supporting the charges. The trooper left, and samples of the groundwater analyzed later showed unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, the charges said.
In December, a group of troopers, Wasilla and Palmer police, an environmental crimes investigator and at least one person from the Drug Enforcement Administration executed a search warrant at Champ's home. They found 1,700 marijuana plants in an outbuilding and processed marijuana, five guns and $20,000 in Champ's trailer and wallet, the charges said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephan Collins said the plants ranged from small starter plants to fully mature, budding plants.
"They had a multistage operation," Collins said.
Champ admitted growing the pot at a hearing Wednesday in federal court, pleading guilty to a felony: growing 1,000 or more marijuana plants. An accomplice, Steven Needles, was convicted at trial in June for the same charge.
A judge subsequently sentenced Champ to 28 months in prison for the grow operation. Champ is expected to plead guilty to waste disposal and further weapons misconduct charges in Palmer state court Aug. 29.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.