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FORT PIERCE — Evidence that’s piled up over a two-week trial proves that Roberto Alberto Cepero, 47, and Sonia Del Risco Polls, 42, ran a “giant” marijuana-growing operation, Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower said Wednesday morning in his closing argument in the case.
Cepero is charged with trafficking in marijuana, conspiracy to traffic in marijuana and racketeering; Polls is charged with manufacture of marijuana, conspiracy to traffic in marijuana and racketeering. A trafficking charge against her was changed to manufacture late Tuesday by Circuit Judge Larry Schack, who is presiding over the trial at the St. Lucie County Courthouse.
Isenhower went through a list of 10 to 11 alleged marijuana growhouses in Port St. Lucie that he said were overseen by Cepero and Polls, showing photos of rooms in some of the houses that had been set up with reflective walls and high-powered lights to facilitate the plants' growth. Several photos also showed marijuana plants in various stages of growth.
“He gave the orders, he had keys to the houses, he had the intent to traffic in cannabis,” Isenhower said of Cepero.
Showing the jury a photo of Cepero and others loading up equipment allegedly to be used in building a growing room, Isenhower said, “You know what that is and you know where it’s going. Right there you have proof of a conspiracy.”
Isenhower said evidence showed Polls had instructed “farmers” at houses how to grow marijuana, and surveillance footage put her at several of the houses.
“She was growing cannabis, she was helping others grow cannabis and she was helping package cannabis,” he said.
Cepero and Polls did not testify on their own behalf. Their attorneys will get a chance to address the jurors when closing arguments continue at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
FORT PIERCE — A jury said Thursday afternoon that Roberto Alberto Cepero was the kingpin of an extensive marijuana growing business, but that his girlfriend, Sonia Del Risco Polls, played a lesser role in the operation.
After deliberating a total of about six hours late Wednesday and much of Thursday, a jury of four men and two women found Cepero, 42, of Port St. Lucie, guilty of trafficking in marijuana, conspiracy to traffic in marijuana and racketeering. The jury found Polls, 42, also of Port St. Lucie, guilty of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana -- a lesser charge than the conspiracy to traffic in marijuana she had been accused of -- and manufacture of marijuana. She was acquitted of a racketeering charge.
Circuit Judge Larry Schack, who presided over the trial, scheduled sentencing for both at 9:15 a.m. Nov. 18. Cepero faces up to 30 years in prison for each count, meaning he could be sentenced to up to 90 years if Schack orders the terms to run consecutively. Polls faces up to five years on each count, up to 10 years if the terms run consecutively.
Polls had been free on bond, but Schack ordered her jailed. Cepero will remain in custody until sentencing.
Polls managed a weak smile and mouthed, “It’s OK” to friends and family as she was led away. Cepero was solemn as the verdict was read and watched jurors intently as each was asked to confirm the verdict.
“I’m pleased with the verdict of the jury,” said Assistant State Attorney Daryl Isenhower. “Mr. Cepero was running a very extensive cannabis growing operation; I think we proved that to the jury, and the verdict reflects that.”
During the two-week trial, Isenhower and Assistant State Attorney Jeff Hendriks piled evidence in front of the jurors, including garbage bags full of marijuana plants and equipment used to build “grow rooms” inside several nondescript houses scattered throughout Port St. Lucie, including high-powered light bulbs, electrical panels and insulation. Evidence also included photos of Cepero buying the equipment.
Defense attorney Rusty Akins, who represents Cepero, said jurors probably were unduly impressed by the sheer volume of the physical evidence.
“But the bottom line is: It’s still just marijuana,” Akins said. “Hopefully the legislature in this state will come to its senses (about marijuana laws) before the end of my client’s sentence.”
Donald A. Chinquina, who represents Polls, said he was glad jurors acquitted his client of racketeering, the most serious charge against her.
The state, Chinquina said, “spent an awful lot of money on this case, and all they came out with was two third-degree felonies (on Polls).
Both Akins and Chinquina said they plan to appeal.
Cepero still faces mortgage fraud charges in connection with grow houses he bought through his family’s construction company, Global Homes Inc. Schack scheduled that trial to begin Nov. 9