LOS ANGELES (AP) — Federal prosecutors dropped a civil forfeiture lawsuit Tuesday against an Anaheim landlord who rented space to medical marijuana dispensaries and could have had his building seized.
A stipulated agreement between the U.S. government and Tony Jalali was filed in court that still needs approval from a judge. Prosecutors also agreed that they wouldn't refile the case.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment about the agreement.
Although Jalali wasn't facing criminal charges, federal prosecutors used a well-established law that allows for the seizure of property linked to criminal activity. At stake was Jalali's building worth an estimated $1.5 million.
Jalali, a software engineer who emigrated to the U.S. from Iran in the late 1970s, was among more than two dozen landlords ensnared in a federal push to close pot clinics in California. He argued he was unfairly targeted, and he booted the lone remaining dispensary once the lawsuit had been filed.
Jalali also said he had no involvement with the dispensary. His attorneys from the Virginia-based public interest law firm Institute for Justice said the government's efforts were unconstitutional because forfeitures must be consistent with conduct.
"Civil forfeiture should not be used as a punishment for a property owner who committed no crime," Jalali's attorney Larry Salzman said. "This is a case that should never have been filed."
The agreement comes less than two months after a U.S. Department of Justice memo that made clear that states where medical marijuana is allowed need vigorous enforcement to avoid federal intervention. The four U.S. attorneys in California had previously targeted pot shops because they contended that the businesses were reaping huge profits. More than 600 pot shops have since closed in Southern California.
About two dozen of roughly 30 forfeiture cases filed in the seven-county Central District of California, which stretches from San Luis Obispo to Riverside, were settled with landlords agreeing not to rent space to dispensaries for several years.
In about half the settlements, landlords also forked over tens of thousands of dollars, including $100,000 from an Orange County building owner who had eight dispensaries as tenants.
But Jalali remained resolute and is pleased with the outcome.
"I did not want to be bullied and stood up to the government to protect my property and my reputation," Jalali said.