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Owners face federal charges

  • Photographed on Aug. 22, 2019, the Ridin’ High skate shop is located on the corner of Battery and Pearl Streets in Burlington, Vt. (VtDigger - Alexandre Silberman)

Published: 8/23/2019 9:25:48 PM
Modified: 8/23/2019 9:25:34 PM

BURLINGTON — The owners of the Ridin’ High skate shop are facing federal charges for marijuana distribution after police investigated reports of drug sales to minors at the business.

John Van Hazinga, 31, and Samantha Steady, 45, pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of marijuana distribution, manufacturing and possession with intent to distribute in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Thursday. The couple was arrested Thursday morning after being indicted by a grand jury, according to a news release.

Police opened an investigation after receiving reports employees at Ridin’ High, located on the corner of Battery and Pearl streets in Burlington, had sold marijuana to teenagers. Burlington police later received multiple reports of disturbances at the shop, including violence, related to the sale of marijuana.

An undercover police officer allegedly purchased the drug “over-the-counter” on multiple occasions from Van Hazinga, who is also known as “Big John.” Police also say Steady manufactured edibles sold at the skate shop, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Law enforcement officers executed search warrants for three properties on Aug. 6, including Ridin’ High, the couple’s Underhill home and a camp in Keene, N.Y. An email account allegedly used by Steady to take orders was also searched. The warrants resulted in seizure of more than 50 marijuana plants, over five kilograms of marijuana, edibles suspected of being infused with THC and about $67,000.

The charges stem from incidents that allegedly occurred between Aug. 8, 2018, and Aug. 6, 2019.

U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said the indictment sends the messages that “open and notorious” trafficking of marijuana will not be tolerated.

“Those who deal this drug and have prior criminal records, those who deal it to children or in their presence, those who engage in violence while dealing it, those who deal it for high profit, and those who deal it in areas of high commercial foot-traffic should expect to receive heightened attention from the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” Nolan said in a statement.

The couple appeared in court represented by different attorneys. Steady was wearing a T-shirt with a brightly colored “Ridin’ High” logo on it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ophardt said numerous edibles were seized but still need to be tested. He is also awaiting a response for a search warrant for electronics seized from the skate shop.

“There is going to be a fair amount of discovery and a fair amount of lab reports that we’re waiting for,” Ophardt said.

Steady was released under conditions, including being subject to testing for prohibited substances, including marijuana, and to not discuss the case with Van Hazinga.

Van Hazinga is being held in custody pending a detention hearing next week. Nolan filed a motion for his detention on Thursday, arguing that no set of conditions can reasonably assure the safety of the community if he is released.

He received felony convictions in 2014 for the cultivation of 25 or more marijuana plants, and in 2016 for the possession of one pound or more of marijuana. In January 2018, he sold marijuana at Ridin’ High in front of his parole officer, according to a court filing.

If convicted, Van Hazinga and Steady could face up to 20 years in prison.

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