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Years after the state confiscated his warehouse, this RI cannabis grower is getting it back

SMITHFIELD – Almost seven years after police raided his Putnam Pike marijuana grow and the state swooped in to confiscate his warehouse and everything inside it – including 15 five-gallon buckets – Joseph Ricci is getting it all back. 

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In a protracted case in which the former licensed marijuana grower contends the police lied about having a confidential informant to gain a search warrant, and then last year destroyed some seized marijuana that could have supported his defense, the state has agreed to settle the property confiscation aspect of the lawsuit. 

Ricci’s separate federal lawsuit alleging the police search was illegal and a violation of his constitutional rights remains pending in U.S. District Court. 

File photo of Joseph M. Ricci, a medical marijuana patient and licensed grower, who is suing the Town of Smithfield and the state, alleging $1.7 million in damages stemming from a 2017 search and seizure of his property. David DelPoio

No 'culpability or liability' for either party in settlement

A provision in the property settlement agreement stipulates “this is a compromise reached by the parties of this dispute claim only and no inference to either party’s culpability or liability may be drawn from this compromise in any way or for any purpose.” 

The agreement is signed by Assistant Attorney General Lynda L. Barr and Ricci’s lawyer Megan E. Sheehan. 

Both Sheehan and Ricci declined comment on the settlement, as did the office of Attorney General Peter Neronha.

In earlier court documents, Sheehan described Ricci as a contractor and a licensed medical marijuana patient who served as a "caregiver" for two other patients. 

He grew marijuana at his warehouse at 256 Putnam Pike, where he also ran his business, Custom Construction LLC. 

In September 2017, Ricci’s complaint says, the Smithfield police received an unverified tip from a first-time confidential informant that Ricci was selling marijuana out of his grow.

On Oct. 23, 2017, police raided the warehouse, seizing 42 marijuana plants, individual bags of marijuana weighing over 1 kilogram – and all the equipment Ricci used to run his contracting business. 

The police charged Ricci with possession with intent to deliver and possession of 1 to 5 kilograms of marijuana.    

The drug charges were eventually dismissed. In May 2019 Ricci pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of “visiting a common nuisance."

Last year Ricci told The Journal in an interview that he pleaded to the misdemeanor charge because he wanted to put the episode behind him. He received a “filing,” meaning his record would be expunged if he remained law-abiding for a year.  

But by then the state attorney general's office had already moved to seize his property through civil forfeiture, contending it had been used to violate state drug laws. 

Alleged lies about a confidential informant

Ricci’s current lawyer, Sheehan, has argued in federal court that his arrest, the raid and the confiscation of his property were all illegal because police lied about having a confidential informant that supported the request for a search warrant. 

U.S. District Judge Mary S. McElroy wrote in a pre-trial ruling last summer that there was “strong” inference supporting Sheehan’s claim. 

She noted that when placed under oath, police officer Joseph M. Marcello “denied having any personal contact with an informant,” despite saying in his affidavit for the search warrant that he had received information from such a person. 

“What adds to the strength of the inference of fabrication, however,” wrote McElroy, “is the failure of the Smithfield police to find any written documentation, in the form of any notations or file entries or other memorialization, that anyone in the department had contact with the putative informant.”   

Evidence destroyed in the case?

In February of this year, Sheehan leveled another allegation against the Smithfield police department: that as late as last year it had destroyed some of the marijuana they had confiscated from Ricci’s warehouse and were holding as evidence as he challenged their allegation he was growing more marijuana than allowed as a medical patient and caregiver. 

“There is no reason the evidence should have been destroyed six years into a pending civil forfeiture case, and three years into this pending case, when at the heart of both the town and state’s arguments are that the destroyed evidence proved that Mr. Ricci was over the possession limits," Sheehan continued. 

In an email exchange last August with Sheehan that is included in court documents, lawyer Ryan D. Stys, representing Smithfield, acknowledged that some of the held marijuana had been destroyed. 

“It is my understanding,” wrote Stys, “that the marijuana has been destroyed as it was subject to a criminal prosecution in which your client pled and the case has been closed out.” 

Stys did not immediately return an email or a phone call at his office seeking comment for this story.



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