His first name, Yan, stood for “yes and no.” His last name, Ebyam, was “maybe” spelled backwards. But from the time he showed up in Oakland to open a cannabis production warehouse blazing with grow lights in 2010, Yan Eybam projected a sense of certainty in the lucrative business prospects of the California medical marijuana market.
Ebyam earned national publicity when his Marjyn Investments firm later signed a labor contract with the Teamsters, paying union workers $25 an hour plus health care to cultivate pot for medical marijuana dispensaries.
On Tuesday, Ebyam, wearing blue jeans and a rumpled black T-shirt, pleaded guilty before a federal judge to two felony counts of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana as part of a corporate venture to open up additional cannabis production horizons in California.
Ebyam is expected to receive a sentence of between six and eight years, based on a plea bargain for his role in persuading two Sutter County farmers to convert their heirloom tomato greenhouses into marijuana production facilities. He faces sentencing Oct. 28 before U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez.
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His plea deal also covers a second count of conspiring to manufacture at least 1,000 plants at another greenhouse pot farm, in space Ebyam rented at a Sacramento County wholesale floral company known for its poinsettias. Ebyam’s pot ventures, including his Oakland operations, are shuttered.
To federal prosecutors, 2,168 marijuana plants in a Sutter County growing operation dubbed “Black Horizon” and 3,105 plants at a Sacramento County production facility called “Blue Horizon” represented a criminal overreach by opportunistic cannabis entrepreneurs. The plants were seized in a 2011 bust.
The Justice Department had declared in a famous 2009 memo that federal authorities wouldn’t target individual medical marijuana patients and caregivers complying with state medical marijuana laws. But federal prosecutors said the memo was never intended to apply to major commercial cannabis producers such as Ebyam and his purported business partner, Nathan Hoffman, a Los Angeles attorney who still faces trial in the case.
In October 2011, citing the major growing operations for medical marijuana dispensaries as blatant violations of both federal and state laws, California’s four U.S. attorneys announced sweeping enforcement actions against scores of California marijuana businesses.
On Tuesday, Ebyam, 37, once portrayed as an emerging face for an exploding California cannabis economy, stirred in his seat in the federal courtroom gallery as he waited to enter his guilty plea.
“It comes to an end today,” he said, adding: “It is what it is.”
Outside of court, his attorney, Michael Long, told Ebyam not to say any more until after his sentencing.
While his plea deal calls for six to eight years, Ebyam could have received anywhere from 10 years to life in prison and a $10 million fine under federal law.
In court Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Pickles said the government’s agreement with Ebyam could allow unspecified additional reductions in prison time in exchange for his cooperation with federal authorities investigating other cases. Mendez still must accept the plea deal, and Ebyam can seek a trial if the judge rejects it or declares that a stricter sentence is warranted.
Hoffman, a former immigration lawyer who began representing medical marijuana businesses, faces money-laundering and conspiracy charges in connection with allegedly heading a business partnership to set up growing facilities – named for different colored “horizons” – to supply the California medical marijuana market.
In February, Thomas and David Jopson, fourth-generation farmers in the Sutter County town of Rio Oso, pleaded guilty to felony charges stemming from leasing out the family greenhouses for marijuana. While they could receive more than seven years in prison under their plea deal when they are sentenced Aug. 19, Pickles said prosecutors would seek prison time “on the lower end” of federal sentencing guidelines.