The man who federal agents claim was the mastermind of a drug and money-laundering ring that used two local medical marijuana clinics as fronts for illegal drug sales made his first court appearance this morning.
Joshua John Hester was led into federal court by bailiffs. He was wearing a jail-issued jump suit.
Hester was arrested earlier this month in Los Angeles, and was kept in custody there for several days before being transferred to San Diego, where 12 other defendants have been charged with lesser crimes in the federal drug case.
Hester was supposed to make his first court appearance last week, but reportedly refused to come out of his jail cell. Criminal defense attorneys said that decision by Hester to not appear at his hearing was very unusual and could be seen as a sign of
disrespect for the court, the judge and the legal process.
But after today's hearing, Hester's attorney told NBC 7/39 News that Hester had not "refused" to leave his cell for last week's hearing.
The attorney, Marcel Stewart, said it was a simple misunderstanding. Stewart says his client did not appear in court because he was told that the hearing had been delayed. Stewart stressed that his client did not intent to miss the hearing, and did not purposely avoid it.
Hester will be in court again Wednesday afternoon for a detention hearing. During that hearing, more information about his alleged role as the ringleader might be disclosed.
At today's hearing, Federal Judge Irma Gonzalez declared the case "complex" because defense attorneys must review an exceptionally large amount of evidence against the suspects, including 20 to 25 thousand pages of documents, eight boxes of financial records and an undisclosed number of compact discs.
The "complex" litigation ruling gives attorneys more time to prepare for a trial.
The stakes for Hester and other defendants are considerable.
Hester, for example faces a minimum mandatory sentence of ten years, up to life in federal prison, and a $4 million fine, if convicted of just one count in the forty-five count indictment.