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Tommy Chong's Hopes May Be Up In Smoke

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  1. Tommy Chong's Hopes May Be Up In Smoke
    Posted by CN Staff on September 09, 2003 at 21:52:26 PT
    By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
    Source: Post-Gazette

    Actor Tommy Chong's own words outside the federal courthouse after he pleaded guilty in May to distributing drug paraphernalia online might hurt him tomorrow when a judge imposes a sentence that could put him in prison for a year and cost him $250,000.
    That's the stiffest sentence U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab could hand down, and he's indicated he may do just that, in part because of what he called Chong's lack of respect for the law.

    Chong, a 65-year-old father of five who has made a career of playing marijuana-addled morons on the big screen, was as subdued and contrite when he entered his plea May 13.

    But outside the courthouse he laughed and told the media he might put the case in his next movie.

    That was apparently a mistake, not only because it showed lack of remorse but because one of the determinations Schwab must make is how much of a fine Chong will have to pay.

    Sentencing guidelines call for a range of $2,000 to $20,000, but the judge indicated he may depart from those numbers and boost the fine to $250,000 because of the possibility that Chong will exploit the case to make money.

    Schwab also said in court papers that Chong hadn't provided the government with all of his financial records and could be trying to misrepresent how much he's earned over the years from selling paraphernalia.

    Chong's net worth is $2.8 million, so prosecutors said he can easily afford to pay the maximum fine.

    "The defendant has become wealthy throughout his entertainment career by glamorizing the illegal distribution and use of marijuana," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton. "Feature films that he made with his longtime partner, Cheech Marin, such as 'Up in Smoke,' trivialize law enforcement efforts to combat marijuana trafficking and use."

    The judge will also have to weigh Chong's attitude. In addition to his courthouse comments, he made light of the situation in an online chat sponsored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in April, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

    When asked, "What do you feel about the feds cracking down on glass pipes and bongs?" he replied, "I feel pretty bad, but it seems to be the only weapons of mass destruction they've found this year."

    Despite the jokes, however, two of Chong's Hollywood pals have written letters to the judge saying he takes his case "very seriously" and describing him as a wonderful family man and professional.

    "I would ask that your honor allow Tommy to pay his debt by contributing to the community," wrote his agent, Matthew Blake of The Gersh Agency in California.

    "He has fans all over the world that would respond to his message that you can get higher on life without using drugs. He is the perfect spokesperson to deliver this message."

    Chong and his lawyers had asked Schwab to postpone the sentencing so they could explore alternative sentences like community service, but the judge said no.

    He will sentence Chong to six months to a year in prison, a halfway house, home detention, probation or some combination of those.

    Chong has admitted to distributing bongs and marijuana pipes on the Internet through his family company, Nice Dreams Enterprises, which is named for one of his movies.

    He also entered a guilty plea for the company, which does business as Chong Glass in Gardena, Calif.

    The case against him was part of Operation Pipe Dreams, a national crackdown on drug paraphernalia that began in Pittsburgh during the prosecution of Akhil Kumar Mishra and his wife, Rajeshwari, who ran two head shops Downtown in the 1990s.

    After an investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Mishras were convicted in federal court here in 2000 of conspiracy and selling illegal drug paraphernalia.

    Using information from that case, federal agents started pursuing distributors and wholesalers across the United States. Chong's enterprise was one of them.

    Operation Pipe Dreams culminated in February with the arrest of some 55 people and the shutdown of head shops and distributors across the country. Chong wasn't arrested at the time, but the family business, which employs several glass blowers, was among those raided.

    Agents also searched his house in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and seized business records and cash.

    Since his plea, Chong has been free on bond and traveling around the country performing his comedy act.

    Note: Actor faces a year, fine for distribution charge.

    Newshawk: ekim
    Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
    Author: Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
    Published: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
    Copyright: 2003 PG Publishing

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