The ringleader of a drug and money-laundering scheme cried as he apologized to his family at his Thursday sentencing.
Hester admitted to being the silent owner of the two dispensaries as a front for his business. He also created a phony board of directors to run his fake business. US District Attorney Laura Duffy said his case was the "most significant prosecution of a large-scale dispensary operator in the Southern District of California."
Judge Irma Gonzales said that although dispensaries "can serve a lot of good in the community" by helping the sick, Hester used them as a front and "did something that is terribly illegal."
Duffy agreed, calling Hester the "poster boy" for the types of dispensary operations that the federally government is targeting.
"He wasn’t overseeing a non-profit collective that served sick people," Duffy said in a statement. "He was a convicted drug trafficker making millions of dollars selling high-quality marijuana to recreational users and exploiting state laws that were meant to help the seriously ill."
Prosecutors said Hester laundered over $2 million by purchasing a home in Rancho Santa Fe, where he grew pot in a secret room.
He also admitted to secretly owning a 37-acre plot of land in the Palomar Mountain area, but placed the property in another name to conceal his ownership, Duffy said.
"[You] never really had respect for the law ever. Ever," Gonzales told Hester in court Thursday.
During Thursday's sentencing, Hester cried as he apologized to his family and Judge Gonzales.
"I am sorry," he said through tears. "I take full responsibility for things that got out of hand."
At his sentencing Thursday, Hester's attorney asked for a four-year sentence instead of the recommended 10 years, saying "this is not meth, not cocaine."
Hester was arrested in Los Angeles in July 2010.