Ex-Packard plant owner strikes plea deal with feds

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Controversial real estate investor Romel Casab pleaded guilty Friday to a low-level felony and could receive zero prison time one year after being indicted on marijuana and gun charges that carry a 20-year penalty.

Casab, 56, a former owner of the Packard Motor Car Co. plant in Detroit, admitted Friday in federal court that he knew a tenant at his Romulus warehouse was growing marijuana but failed to alert law enforcement.

The plea deal brought a quiet end to a high-profile case that burst into the spotlight more than five years ago involving the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry and Casab, the one-time owner of a decrepit industrial plant that served as a symbol of Detroit’s decades-long decline.

In April 2011, federal drug agents conducted a series of daylight raids at Casab’s home in Commerce Township, a Novi medical marijuana dispensary, a Detroit strip club, banks and other Metro Detroit locations, seizing a Ferrari sports car, a 1928 Studebaker, a 2001 Harley Davidson and jewelry.

The raids marked the highest-profile law-enforcement action since voters approved the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act in 2008. The raids sparked fears of a broader crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries — fears that proved unfounded.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids came a year after Casab made headlines when he sued a local art gallery that removed a mural from the Packard plant reportedly painted by famed graffiti artist Banksy.

Casab wasn’t charged until December 2015. That’s when he was indicted and accused of conspiring to sell marijuana from February 2009 until May 2011. He also was indicted on two firearm charges and accused of maintaining a drug facility at the Romulus warehouse.

While swearing to tell the truth Friday, Casab raised his right hand while clutching a portable oxygen tank in his left and pleaded guilty to a single count: misprision of felony.

“I leased out a building to a gentleman who grew marijuana in it,” Casab told U.S. District Judge Stephen Murphy.

The “gentleman” was identified in court as “J.S.”

“This gentleman had 2.5 kilos of marijuana, and you knew he was growing it?” Murphy asked.

“Yes, your honor,” Casab said.

“And you did not do anything about it, specifically, notify authorities...?” the judge asked. “Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Casab said.

“Can I sit down?” Casab said, still holding the oxygen tank. “I ran out of air.”

Casab is scheduled to be sentenced March 17. The sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, call for a sentence of 0-6 months.

“I can’t guarantee I will follow it,” Murphy told Casab. “Whether I do or don’t, that’s not a reason to back out of your plea.”

In April 2011, federal agents searched Casab’s warehouse at at 29100 Northline Road and found marijuana growing equipment, irrigation tubs, temperature and humidity controls, ballasts, grow lights and more than 40 kilograms of a mixture substance containing marijuana and 374 marijuana plants, according to the indictment.

It also alleged that Casab collected $20,000 in rent payments from people who were growing marijuana at the facility.

Casab, a convicted felon, also was charged with illegally possessing a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and a 9mm caliber “Lady Smith” semi-automatic pistol.

The charges listed in the indictment carried penalties of up to 20 years in prison and $8 million in fines. Casab is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Jennifer Chambers contributed


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