COMPTON — The owner of a swimming pool maintenance firm testified Tuesday that she saw several healthy marijuana plants--one standing "six to eight feet tall, with a trunk as big as the calf on your leg"--in Francesca Houpe's backyard last July.
Victoria Adams, president of Kool & blue Pool Services, added that when one of her employees asked Houpe if she realized that marijuana was growing on her land "she replied, 'Yes, I know. . . . I put it there.' "
Adams made her statements as the City Council opened a series of hearings to decide if Houpe's home should be declared a public nuisance under a year-old ordinance designed to attack owners of property where drug dealers ply their trade. The hearings are the first step in a process that could lead to confiscation of the house.
Houpe, 34, was arrested in August after police reported finding three marijuana plants growing on her property near a garage apartment that she rented out. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office, however, has twice declined to file charges against her.
Councilman Floyd A. James excused himself from Tuesday's session because Houpe is a witness against him in an election fraud case. James also passed on the initial tip--from Adams--that led police to search Houpe's backyard for marijuana. And Houpe contends that the councilman was attempting to harass her.
Two Compton police officers testified that they confiscated the marijuana plants Aug. 14 and returned to arrest Houpe on Aug. 21.
Adams' testimony was the high point of the session because it contradicted previous statements in which Houpe denied owning or cultivating the illegal plants. She will continue testifying when the hearing continues at 4 p.m. Nov. 12.
"They were big (plants) and, basically, they were growing wild," Adams testified as Houpe sat flanked by her two young daughters and a local cable television station filmed the testimony.
Adams said she noticed the plants one day in early July while visiting Houpe's home to discuss repairs needed on the swimming pool. When Adams got in her car to leave, she recalled mentioning the plants to her business partner Shirley Allen. (Allen who hasn't testified, confirmed the conversation in a recent interview.)
Adams said one of her employees--Charleston Gray, who is Allen's brother--asked Houpe directly about the plants a week later. Adams said Gray told her that Houpe claimed ownership.
But Regele charged that Adams' story was "a fabrication" concocted because she has ties to Councilman James. Regele said the council, at James' request, recently awarded a $220,400 contract to a computer training center that Adams helps operate. Adams confirmed that the center had contributed a small amount of money to the councilman's 1985 reelection campaign.
At separate points in Regele's questioning, however, Mayor Walter R. Tucker and Councilman Maxcy D. Filer complained that questions about James' role in the case are irrelevant because the council's job is to simply decide if Houpe knew marijuana was growing on her property.