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Ex-Marine sentenced in marijuana case

An eight-month prison sentence is given to a man who agreed with another former Marine to grow marijuana.

A former U.S. Marine sergeant who was caught with 108 marijuana plants in Lutz was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday.

Mike Powers, 26, who had been decorated for service in Bosnia, Liberia and other locations, told U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew that he agreed with another former Marine to grow marijuana in exchange for living nearly free at a house at Vandervort and Hanna roads.

The scheme was foiled last year. The men's first crop was eaten by spider mites and the second was seized Sept. 15 by Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies.

Last month, Bucklew sentenced the sponsor of the project, 26-year-old Michael Clayton, to five years in prison. Prosecutors argued against leniency for Clayton because he was found to have set up several "grow houses" around the county. And he tested positive for marijuana use while free on bail.

"Mr. Clayton was clearly more culpable than Mr. Powers," Bucklew said Friday.

She also complimented Powers for admitting that he, not Clayton, obtained the men's first batch of marijuana plants from a friend in Fort Myers. "I appreciate your honesty, and I think that will probably help you out in sentencing today," the judge said.

Deputies began investigating Powers' house based on a tip. They found a pattern of high electrical consumption, suggesting the use of powerful growing lamps and offsetting air-conditioning. Then, in the coolness after midnight, they aimed a sophisticated heat-measuring device at the house. The eastern end of the roof was cool, and the western end was hot, suggesting that lamps were warming that end.

That evidence led to the bust Sept. 15. Powers led officers to Clayton, and both men pleaded guilty last spring.

Clayton had a prior conviction in state court for cocaine trafficking. Powers' record had been clean.

Powers told Bucklew on Friday, "I'm sorry, and I'm ashamed of what I did."

_ Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 226-3469 or coatssptimes.com.

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