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Five released from jail in EHT 'open mic' where pounds of cannabis, guns were found

Michael Garofalo Jr.

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Five people were released from jail this week with pending charges from an Egg Harbor Township warehouse party that was allegedly a front for the sale of illegal cannabis and mushrooms.

When police raided the warehouse on Fire Road they found 8.7 pounds of marijuana, 14 pounds of mushrooms, 30 pounds of edibles, five pounds of THC-based oil and $2,500 in cash, Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Campellone told the judge in five separate detention hearings.

Three guns were also found, with three of those arrested charged in connection to two of the guns.

But there may be some issues in tying those defendants to the weapons, Judge William Miller said, which influenced his decision in not holding them on those charges.

"Everybody's scattering like mice on a ship saying they're not my weapons," the judge said of the scene.

All five of those charged have little to no criminal histories, which their defense attorneys pointed to in arguing for release. Many also presented several character letters of support.

Daegan Leithmann, 21, of Egg Harbor City, was leasing the property at 2547 Fire Road, his attorney confirmed.

Inside, police found tables set up representing various tables of unlicensed marijuana.

But there is no evidence that Leithmann was involved in the sales or had any knowledge of whether those selling their wares at the event were licensed or not, attorney Lou Barbone said.

"There's not one incident where he's observed selling anything illegal," Barbone told the judge, saying that the state "failed miserably" in establishing probable cause.

The state presented Leithmann as the main advertiser of the event, playing it up on YouTube and Instagram.

In at least one of those videos, he references High Regards and his partner, Jon, who Campellone said was co-defendant Jonathan Vega, 21, of Egg Harbor City.

Vega "has absolutely no contact whatsoever with the juvenile or adult criminal justice system," defense attorney Jake Bayak said.

Leithmann is also charged with a handgun reported stolen out of North Carolina that was found inside a sweatshirt after the raid. Barbone, however, argued that there is nothing tying his client to the gun.

Two Jackson, Ocean County men are charged with another gun, found in a satchel that was seen being taken from the trunk of a car both arrived in, according to the state.

Michael Garofalo Jr., 20, was driving the car, which is seen in surveillance, Campellone told the judge. Brandon Moore, 22, is then seen getting out of the front passenger seat and going into the trunk to retrieve the satchel.

A Glock 43X handgun with extended magazine with hollow-point bullets was later found in that satchel, but whether the gun was there when it was in the vehicle may be hard to prove, the judge said.

The fifth defendant, Melissa Martella, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, does work in a legal marijuana business as lead cultivator, attorney Darrin Lord said.

But her table of baked and homemade gummies with the High Minds logo was not part of that legal business.

She was released with her four co-defendants, but cannot return to her job, the judge told her.

"I just propagate the plants," Martella told the judge. "They don't sell anything out of the facility that I'm working for."

"I don't want you involved in marijuana at all," Miller told her. "I know that hurts you. I know that takes you away from your employment."

But he said he did not want her to possibly take products from the legal facility and sell them under the counter.


Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Sunday, June 16, 2024
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