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Trial Resumes in Marijuana Farms Case : Courts: Proceedings were delayed while the defendant, accused of a multimillion-dollar operation, recovered from a car crash.

May 30, 1991|Special to The Times

The trial of Lancaster contractor Frank Edward Gegax on charges that he built large underground marijuana farms beneath desert houses in California and Arizona resumed Wednesday after Gegax recovered sufficiently from a traffic accident.

Gegax, 48, suffered a deep ankle cut and head cuts when his car hit a bridge abutment May 21 as he drove from Lancaster to his federal court trial in Prescott, Ariz.

He was hospitalized in Prescott for four days and is still receiving treatment for head injuries, said his lawyer, Allen Kyman of Phoenix.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt granted a defense motion last week to continue the trial to Wednesday to allow Gegax time to recover.

Gegax, owner of KMG Construction in Lancaster, had been free on $400,000 bond. But he was jailed following his release from the hospital when his father-in-law, who had posted property as collateral for the bond, asked that it be withdrawn, Kyman said.

Gegax pleaded innocent in November to one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and two counts of possession of marijuana for purposes of sale. He was accused of masterminding a marijuana-growing ring after federal and local law enforcement officers raided an underground plantation east of Lancaster and two others in Mohave Valley, Ariz.

Officers seized about 20,000 marijuana plants worth $50 million, a sophisticated underground nursery containing sunlamps that cost $500 each, and a sprinkler system that kept the marijuana watered.

The plantation bunkers were capable of producing $75 million to $150 million worth of plants a year, officials said.

Although 14 people originally were charged, Gegax is the sole defendant in the trial that began May 14. The others--except for Roger Miller of New York City, who is still at large--pleaded guilty to conspiracy and marijuana possession charges under agreements with the prosecution that they would testify against Gegax.

Richard (Rick) Yerger, 28, of Long Beach has already testified that Gegax persuaded him to buy a Lancaster house to be turned into a marijuana farm.

Yerger told the court that in 1984 he began working with Gegax in Palmdale to learn the plumbing trade. Two years later, Yerger said, Gegax asked him to buy the Lancaster home in Yerger's name.

"He said he wanted to grow marijuana underground," Yerger said, adding that he agreed to buy the home.

Yerger said he helped Gegax build an underground marijuana nursery and seed the first crop. "When the first crop began to grow out of control--plants growing as high as the ceiling--I told Frank that I had a friend that might be able to help," Yerger said.

The friend--David Duanne Larson, 28, of Lake Havasu, Ariz.--had years of experience growing marijuana in Lake Tahoe, Yerger testified.

Larson also has testified, saying he was brought in as "a good caretaker of the business . . . somebody to manage the growth operation."

Larson said he taught other defendants, including Gegax, how to distinguish between male and female marijuana plants and oversaw six harvests.

In 1990, Larson said, he moved to Mohave Valley to begin development of a 10,000-square-foot operation under a house with nine basement rooms for plants.

Both Yerger and Larson still face a mandatory seven years in prison as part of their pleas.

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