- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Federal prosecutors are seeking a 10-year, maximum sentence for a man who joined two tech workers in running a hash-oil operation that exploded in 2013, destroying a Bellevue apartment building and causing the death of a former mayor.

David Richard Schultz II is being sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court, and federal prosecutors say they want to send a message to others who might think Washington’s legalization of marijuana in 2012 gave them license to engage in dangerous home production of potent pot extracts.

“If Washington’s experiment in decriminalizing marijuana is to succeed, it is important to send a public message that merely because some marijuana-related activity is now tolerated, that does not mean that those who go too far … will escape prosecution and significant criminal sanction,” the U.S. attorney’s office wrote in a sentencing memo.

Nan Campbell, an 87-year-old former Bellevue councilwoman and the city’s first female mayor, was sleeping in another unit when the explosion rocked the three-level building at the Hampton Greens Apartments on Nov. 5, 2013. She tripped as she escaped, broke her pelvis and died of complications two weeks later.

One of her daughters, Patty Campbell, said her mom remained vibrant, independent and involved in Bellevue’s civic life until her death.

“We figured she had at least 20 years left,” Campbell said. “We feel that ultimately these three, especially David Schultz, are responsible for our mother’s death.”

Two residents suffered broken bones when they dropped from windows or balconies to escape, and property damage topped $2 million. Schultz suffered bad burns to his hands and head - indicating he was likely making hash oil when the explosion happened, prosecutors said.

Schultz, 32, was staying at an apartment rented by two men, Daniel James Strycharske and Jesse D. Kaplan, who worked at software companies that contracted with Microsoft. Schultz had met them at Seattle Hempfest, a marijuana celebration that draws tens of thousands of people every year.

Strycharske and Kaplan provided the money and the apartment for the hash oil operation, while Schultz provided the expertise, prosecutors said. All three have pleaded guilty to drug charges, including endangering human life while manufacturing a controlled substance.

To extract the oil, Schultz had been using butane - a gas that can sink and pool because it’s denser than air, leaving it vulnerable to explosions even at small sparks from appliances. Such explosions have become more common as the popularity of hash oil spreads, and just this year, Washington lawmakers clarified the state’s marijuana laws to reiterate that only state-licensed processors are allowed to use butane to make hash oil.

Prompted by a worker’s complaint, a police officer visited the apartment weeks before the explosion and warned Schultz that it would be dangerous to use butane in a residential building, prosecutors said. Schultz denied he was doing so, and the officer left.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Annette Hayes said that of a dozen people charged by her office with hash-oil operations that exploded or posed risk to uninvolved people in the past two years, this case represents “the worst possible scenario.”

She noted that after his release from the hospital, Schultz left Washington for Los Angeles - where police found him in a motel room with equipment for a hash operation, including butane. “He was right back doing the same thing,” Hayes said.

That’s part of the reason prosecutors consider Schultz more culpable than his co-defendants. Federal probation officials recommended four-year terms for the other two.

Schultz’s lawyer, assistant federal public defender Mohammad Hamoudi, said his client - who had been impoverished, severely beaten as a child, mostly homeless and mentally ill - should not be held more responsible.

“Without his co-defendants’ marijuana plants, money, and apartment, this offense would likely not have occurred,” Hamoudi wrote. “It is troubling that Probation would suggest that Mr. Strycharske and Mr. Kaplan, who unlike Mr. Schultz had financial opportunities at Microsoft, deserve a 48-month sentence in this case as opposed to a 120-month sentence for Mr. Schultz.”

In a three-and-a-half page letter to the court, Schultz apologized “to everyone affected” and said he was sleeping - not making hash - when the explosion occurred.

“I only got involved in this because I thought that the legalization movement of marijuana in Washington would provide me with funds to be a part of my boys lives, and it went so far in the opposite direction I can’t think of it without crying, or having a panic attack,” he wrote. “Looking back and seeing the percentage that marijuana took up of my life makes me sick.”


Follow Johnson at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle


This story has been corrected to show that Hayes’ title is U.S. attorney, not acting U.S. attorney.



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