Judge grants release for lobbyist accused in marijuana ring

A judge allowed a Missouri lobbyist to leave jail Wednesday after federal authorities accused the man of taking part in a marijuana-selling scheme.

Eapen Thampy was given pretrial release after a hearing in the Jefferson City federal courthouse. Magistrate Judge Willie Epps approved the release after prosecutors withdrew a request to keep Thampy detained until trial.

A grand jury indicted Thampy and six others last week on charges they took part in an alleged conspiracy to sell marijuana across Missouri. Thampy is specifically accused of working with Craig D. Smith of Oregon to sell marijuana in February 2018. 

Epps said that Thampy must give up his passport, notify the court if he plans on leaving the state and submit to regular drug screening as part of the pretrial release. A trial is tentatively set for August.

Thampy works as a lobbyist for 14 groups at the Missouri State Capitol, including the Missouri Hemp Association, as well as businesses interested in cannabis. He has previously been active in local issues dealing with marijuana, including Columbia's failed effort to decriminalize growing 35 grams or less of the plant.

The indictment claims that one of the defendants, Tamra Johnson, laundered $1,000 of the drug proceeds through a donation to Thampy's political action committee, Better Way Missouri, which promoted cannabis legalization.

Thampy's attorneys, Michael Belancio and Shawn Lee, declined to comment after the hearing.

Two others involved in the case, Osama and Nader Yanis, have pleaded guilty for their roles in the case. Neither have been sentenced.

The others included in the case are Blake Johnson, Tamra Johnson, Dylan Blake and Christopher Bradshaw, all of Missouri, and Michael Ricketts, of Washington.

Federal authorities say Smith supplied the group with high-grade marijuana from 2015 to 2018. That product was allegedly distributed to Augustus Roberts, who was killed in December 2017 in east Columbia. The Drug Enforcement Administration claims someone stole more than 800 pounds of marijuana and 3,199 THC-filled pens from the home.

It's unclear what led law enforcement officials to suspect Thampy was a part of the possible conspiracy.

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