Ridin' High Owners Accused of Dealing Pot From Burlington Skate Shop | Off Message

Ridin' High Owners Accused of Dealing Pot From Burlington Skate Shop


Ridin' High Skate Shop - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Ridin' High Skate Shop
Updated on August 23, 2019.

The owners of Ridin' High Skate Shop, John Van Hazinga and Samantha Steady, face federal conspiracy charges for growing marijuana and selling it out of their eccentric Burlington storefront, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

It's the second downtown business to be raided this year for dealing pot.

The feds allege Van Hazinga, also known as "Big John," and Steady ran a grow operation at their Underhill home, then sold the drug and THC-infused edibles out of their skateboard shop at the corner of Pearl and Battery streets, within sight of the Burlington police headquarters.

A grand jury charged Van Hazinga with 10 criminal counts, including conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute, distribution, manufacture of more than 50 marijuana plants, and use of his home and business to commit the crimes. Steady is named in six of those counts.

The pair were arrested Thursday morning and arraigned in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

A press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office stated that Burlington police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents began investigating the shop owners after witnesses reported seeing teenagers buy marijuana at the store.

Van Hazinga sold pot at the store to an undercover officer on "multiple occasions," according to the release, while Steady allegedly used an email address to take orders for THC-infused edibles, which she manufactured.

The government also said it linked Van Hazinga and Steady to a "rural camp" in Keene, N.Y. On August 6, authorities carried out searches of the camp, the couple's Underhill home and Ridin' High, seizing more than 50 marijuana plants, over five kilograms of pot, edibles and around $67,000, the release states.

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Steady, who is represented by cannabis attorneys Tim Fair and Andrew Subin, was released on conditions following a Thursday arraignment. But Magistrate Judge John Conroy ordered Van Hazinga detained pending a follow-up hearing.

Subin said on Friday that Steady intends to plead not guilty to the charges. He declined to comment on the indictment.

"There's been 40-some opioid deaths in Vermont this year, and there's obviously been no cannabis-related deaths," Subin said. "We had hoped and would wish that the resources of the government would be spent in other ways. We don't think the people of Vermont support this, this level of criminal action against these guys."

A government court filing notes that "Big John" has numerous parole and probation violations in his record, "including in January of 2018, when he sold marijuana in the Ridin' High business directly in front of his state parole officer."

Van Hazinga, 41, has a lengthy criminal history in state court. This summer, he was charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful mischief after an officer saw Van Hazinga smash a car windshield using an eight-foot board because the 20-year-old man inside had parked in the shop's driveway. A police affidavit in the case states that Van Hazinga has two felony convictions and 15 misdemeanor convictions.

The skateboard enthusiast was critically injured in 2007 during a downhill ride near Smugglers' Notch. He spent a month in a coma but later recovered.
The feds targeted another Burlington business for selling weed in January, when authorities raided Good Times Gallery on Church Street. Owner Derek Spilman was charged for possessing a firearm while distributing marijuana out of the head shop. The raid took place shortly after Seven Days reported that authorities had known for months that Spilman was dealing drugs across from City Hall, and that a reporter had witnessed a sale.
A hearing in the Spilman case is scheduled for August 26. A recent docket entry notes a plea agreement, but details were not available.

In a statement Thursday, U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said the Ridin' High bust sends a message "that open and notorious trafficking of marijuana will not be tolerated." She said the office gives "heightened attention" to dealers with criminal records and those who engage in violence, deal to minors, "deal it for high profit" or deal in "areas of high commercial foot-traffic."

State lawmakers legalized marijuana possession last year, but recreational sales remain outlawed under Vermont law. 

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