Ex-coach guilty of growing pot
By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer
A former part-time tennis coach for the University of Hawai'i-Hilo was found guilty yesterday by a federal court jury of cultivating more than 50 marijuana plants in an area of the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
The jury found Laron Kortgaard, 45, not guilty of a second charge, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it.
According to court testimony, federal park rangers spotted Kortgaard in a marijuana patch with approximately 65 plants on March 15 in an area adjacent to Maunaloa Strip Road.
Federal Deputy Public Defender Michael Weight claimed Kortgaard was merely hiking in the area and had water jugs in his car because he was in the habit of hauling municipal drinking water gathered in Kurtistown to his home in Maunaloa Estates.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Kawahara, who handled the case against Kortgaard, said some of the water jugs found in Kortgaard's car were virtually identical to those photographed in the marijuana patch by surveillance camera's.
Kortgaard was convicted in 1994 of a federal charge of importing heroin to Hawai'i. Because he was still on supervised release when he was charged with the marijuana counts, he faces revocation of the supervised release status and could be sentenced up to five additional years for the prior heroin conviction, U.S. Attorney Edward Kubo said yesterday.
Kubo said Kortgaard could face a term of up to 30 years when he is sentenced Sept. 30 for his conviction on the marijuana charge. But Weight said based on federal sentencing guidelines, Kortgaard will likely receive a sentence of 21 to 33 months.
Following his arrest, Kortgaard was fired from his part-time tennis coaching job. The reasons, UH-Hilo officials said, were that he failed to show up for work since his arrest, missed practices and a meet and failed to inform the administration of his absences.