Evidence, charges tossed in Valley marijuana bust

Casey Grove

Hundreds of marijuana plants and other evidence of a Mat-Su couple's grow operation have been thrown out of court, along with the indictment against them.

A judge agreed Monday to dismiss the charges against Trace and Jennifer Thoms after suppressing the drug evidence Alaska State Troopers seized in a raid of their Meadow Lakes home, west of Wasilla, in 2010.

An earlier, long-running court dispute about the troopers' search warrant had focused on Trooper Kyle Young's warrant application, in which Young said he could smell the pot from across a swamp while he drove by on a below-freezing night. He later found that the Thomses' electrical bill was far higher than that of a typical home.

The issue of whether Young lied about his smelling ability landed the case before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent it back to Alaska for another hearing. A judge ultimately decided Trooper Young was truthful.

But the Sept. 20 ruling to toss the evidence was based on the troopers' overreaching search: They looked in buildings not included in the warrant that they did not know about. The buildings were more than 100 yards from the home, not on the same electric meter and not associated with the household's day-to-day activities, so they were not subject to the warrant, the judge decided.

Young used specific wording in his application rather than ask for a broader search warrant because that was how a troopers' warrant application template was written, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephan Collins said Tuesday. The wording left the scope of the search open to interpretation later, and the troopers would not have known precisely how it would have been interpreted, Collins said.

"The troopers walked over that invisible line," Collins said. "It's not a clearly defined line."

Still, the troopers found cash in the home, Collins said. The prosecutor would not comment on the possibility of another indictment against the Thomses, but Trace Thoms' lawyer, Rex Butler, hinted that an indictment for tax-evasion might be in the works.

"You know, you want to win, but you're up against the federal government, and they don't go quietly in the night. And they have a lot of tools to go after you," Butler said. "If that fight approaches, we'll look at it then."

The couple will likely lose their home, Butler said.

But Butler said he and the Thomses were "elated" to hear the indictment was thrown out.

"Listen, this is a family that has children to take care of. The main thing is they won't be separated from each other," Butler said. "The reason they fought so long and so hard was they didn't want somebody else raising their family."

"People will say, 'You shouldn't have done this in the first place,'" Butler continued. "But Alaska has an insatiable appetite for marijuana."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4343.