by Peter Hecht // Sacramento Bee
A former Yuba County narcotics officer was convicted Wednesday on federal charges involving trafficking nearly 250 pounds of marijuana to Pennsylvania.
Yuba County Deputy Christopher Heath, 37, was a lead investigator who filed numerous search warrants and directed raids in marijuana, methamphetamine and other drug cases for a five-agency Narcotics Enforcement Team in Yuba and Sutter counties.
Heath and two other men were stopped in York County, Pa., on Dec 29, 2015. They were driving two pickup trucks loaded with 122 packages of marijuana that could be sold in the East Coast black market for four to five times the street value in California or the wholesale price in the state’s regulated marijuana industry.
A federal jury in Harrisburg, Pa., convicted Heath after a two-day trial of multiple counts including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute 100 kilograms of marijuana, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
Heath, who was taken into custody by United States marshals after the verdict, could face a sentence of 20 years or more in federal prison.
Along with sealed packages of marijuana and $11,000 in cash, the Pennsylvania authorities said they found Heath’s law enforcement badge and service weapon. When Heath and his co-conspirators arrived to deliver the marijuana in York County, they were arrested by the York County Drug Task Force and Penn Township Police Department.
Bruce D. Brandler, the United State Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said jurors took less than two hours to reach guilty verdicts.
Heath, who lives in Butte County, was arrested with two other Butte residents: his brother-in-law, Tyler Long, then 31, and Ryan Falsone, then 27, according to officials in Pennsylvania and California.
The arrests created chaos for the court systems in Yuba and Sutter counties, forcing authorities to review numerous drug cases handled by Heath. California authorities say Heath, an investigator since 2013 for the Yuba-Sutter NET-5 narcotics team, was involved in more than 60 drug cases and prosecutions.
According to the Justice Department press release, Heath and his co-defendants grew marijuana in Oroville. In addition to attempting to drive pot to Pennsylvania, they shipped it through the United States Postal Service to post office boxes in York and Lancaster and a home in Hanover, Pa.
Brandler said the operation that trafficked hundreds of pounds of marijuana between Northern California, Florida and York County with money sent back to California to purchase additional marijuana.
In Yuba County, Heath was hired as a correctional officer in 2003 and promoted to deputy sheriff in 2007. According to public records, Heath earned $84,408.96 in salary and another $34,196.78 in benefits in 2014, the year after he was promoted to the narcotics enforcement team.