Prohibition Profiteering, Crony Capitalism, and America’s Prison Society: Malheur County, Oregon as Case StudyWilliam Norman Grigg
Sep. 13, 2014
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William Esbensen is home in Boise, Idaho, following several weeks in the Malheur County Jail. Esbensen and his business partner, Raymond Scott Kangas, were convicted of “racketeering” for operating a medical marijuana cooperative called the 45th Parallel in Ontario, Oregon. They were prosecuted under a law that was no longer in effect in a state where voters will most likely approve a measure decriminalizing recreational marijuana use this November.
Although Esbensen and Kangas were spared prison, both have been given two years’ probation and forced to pay fines and “restitution” costs to the Malheur County Prosecutor’s Office. This arrangement amounts to double-dipping, given that the prosecution was provided with a still-undisclosed sum of money from the Malheur County Sheriff Office that had been stolen (or, as the perpetrators would say, “forfeited”) from Esbensen’s home two years ago today (September 11, 2012).
“Restitution” requires a definable injury that imposes quantifiable costs on an identified victim. Neither Esbensen nor Kangas injured Malheur County DA Dan Norris, deputy DA Michael Dugan, or any of their subordinates. Neither engaged in an act of vandalism or other property damage. Yet the “Amended Judgment” against Esbensen demanded $18,097.95 in “restitution” to be “dispersed by the court clerk so that victim(s) each receive an equal amount of each payment.”
The “victim” is identified as “Malheur County District Attorn” [sic] — someone who suffered no harm from Esbensen’s actions, and whose disreputable enterprise has profited handsomely from caging him. The “Amended Judgment” in Esbensen’s case makes it plain that the court and DA’s office aren’t through wringing money out of a man who did no proven harm to anybody.
The “Judgment Creditor” listed in the court document is “State of Oregon,” and the “Judgment Debtor” is Mr. Esbensen. We’re required to pretend that Esbensen borrowed money from the State of Oregon, or otherwise contracted a debt with that fictive entity — and we’re also informed that the court’s ruling “creates a judgment lien” on his property.
And yet it still gets worse:
“The court may increase the total amount owed by adding collection fees and other assessments. These fees and assessments may be added without further notice to the defendant and without further court order.”
Thus at a time of his choosing, subject to no oversight or accountability whatsoever, and most likely as a result of ex parte action by the DA’s office, Judge Gregory Baxter (who tried the case from the bench) can pull a new “assessment” from his retreating orifice and impose it on Esbensen — and then enforce it by sending him to jail, adding whatever “collection fees” he pleases if the victim can’t make timely extortion payments.
Like millions of others caught in the coils of the probation and parole system, Esbensen is now an inmate in a species of open-air prison. He is subject to the capricious supervision of a parole officer who — the court wants us to pretend — has the right to inspect Esbensen’s home, his businesses, and his person at any time, for any reason. Esbensen is forbidden to possess “weapons, firearms, or dangerous animals,” to consume legal “intoxicants,” or “enter establishments where alcohol is the chief item of sale.”
At the orders of his court-appointed overseer, Esbensen is to submit “to blood, breath, saliva, hair, or urine test(s) … and pay all costs” — which means enriching a court-approved contractor. The same is true of the provision requiring Esbensen — who was not prosecuted on charges involving the consumption of alcohol or other intoxicants, mind you — “Participate in a support group for alcohol or drug use, approved by their probation officer of the court.”
This almost certainly will mean a referral to the Lifeways Behavioral Health Center in Ontario, Oregon, a facility that rakes in literally millions of dollars a year from court-ordered referrals. Whatever merit there may be to the Lifeways program, it will be of no benefit to him, because he is neither an alcoholic nor a drug abuser. The point isn’t to help Esbensen with a problem, but to turn his sentence into a revenue stream for another crony of the court.
Bear in mind, all of this is being done to someone who provided a legally recognized medicine to willing clients, and was prosecuted under a now-invalid state ordinance. And the High Desert Drug Enforcement Task Force is trying to keep the pipeline full even as the electorate turns against prohibition: Yesterday we were invited to celebrate its most recent triumph, in which two “operations” were shut down, one of which involved a grower who produced three plants in excess of what the “law” permits.