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Hernando couple avoids prison on marijuana-growing charges

BROOKSVILLE — A Brooksville couple who said they were running a marijuana-growing operation in their home because they needed the money to pay medical bills will avoid jail time.

Rhonda Quince, 44, and Jeffrey Scott Wagner, 51, each faced a single count of cultivation of marijuana. If convicted of the third-degree felony, they could have faced mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences.

But on May 6, Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing decided to defer prosecution against them and ordered them into a pretrial intervention program.

Under the program, which is for offenders without previous criminal records, Quince and Wagner will have to serve probation, do community service and pay for court costs. If they are successful, the charges will be dismissed.

The Hernando County Sheriff's Office reports deputies learned of the grow operation at the couple's home at 12491 Sun Road after receiving a tip last month. During a search of the home, authorities found more than 130 marijuana plants, a bag containing 37 decomposing plants and other equipment common to grow operations, according to an arrest affidavit.

Most of the plants were kept in the house under an artificial light, the report said. Others were grown in an open area surrounded by a 6-foot-high privacy fence near an aluminum shed in their back yard.

Quince later told the Times she decided to grow marijuana at her home out of desperation: Wagner's medical troubles had drained their savings; their bills were mounting; and she had few job prospects, having been a housewife for much of her life.

That's when she says she found a couple of Web sites that sold marijuana seeds.

"I figured I'd give it a shot," Quince told the Times. "I thought I might be able to sell it and pay some bills."

But her efforts mostly fell short: most of the plants died before she had a chance to harvest them. And even if she had produced a healthy crop, Quince said, she had no idea how she would have sold the plants.

Public defender Michael Amico said Rushing was initially reluctant to consider pretrial intervention because of the number of large grow-house operations discovered across Hernando County in recent years.

But after learning about the scale of their operation, Amico said, Rushing relented.

A message left for Quince and Wagner at their home Thursday wasn't immediately returned.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120. You can follow Joel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jandersontimes.

Hernando couple avoids prison on marijuana-growing charges 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 5:19pm]
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