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PINELLAS TEACHER ACCUSED OF GROWING MARIJUANA IN HIS HOUSE

The Largo High instructor told deputies he was growing the drug for his own use.

Richard Montgomery Smith was a Spanish teacher at Largo High School with two bachelor's degrees and a clean record.

But an anonymous caller who dialed the Sheriff's Office 586-DOPE tip line said he was something else: a marijuana grower. Sheriff's deputies went to Smith's home at 5306 46th Ave. N and searched the house after he gave them permission, the Sheriff's Office said.

Deputies reported finding five full-grown marijuana plants in a bedroom closet, 11 seedlings in a bedroom and some harvested marijuana in another closet. Street value: About $1,500.

Early Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office arrested Smith, 33, on a felony charge of manufacturing a controlled substance. He was released after posting $5,000 bail.

Smith also had fertilizer, nutrients, fluorescent lighting and two hydroponic growing systems, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda. He told deputies that he grew the marijuana "for my personal use," according to an arrest affidavit, and authorities do not believe he was selling the marijuana to students.

"I would prefer that you not publish that (news of my arrest) as I have not been convicted yet," Smith said in a brief interview Tuesday afternoon. He declined to comment further until he could talk to an attorney.

The school district said it would now open its own investigation of Smith and could place him on administrative leave and take other disciplinary action. He has no previous record of any misconduct.

"We are fully cooperating with the Sheriff's Office" said Andrea Zahn, a spokeswoman for the school district.

Smith went to St. Petersburg College and Hillsborough Community College before graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in Spanish in 1999, according to Pinellas County school records. He also received a bachelor's degree in finance from the University of South Florida in 2002.

Zahn said Smith had started working in Pinellas schools in 2003 as a substitute. He was hired as a full-time teacher at Bay Point Middle School in 2004.

For the past two years, Smith has worked as a Spanish teacher at Largo High and was expected to resume teaching at the school this fall before his arrest. He also has taught adult education classes at Dixie Hollins High School.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

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