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Five years in prison for operator of large Interior Alaska marijuana farm

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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:59 pm | Updated: 12:09 am, Sat Jan 19, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A “farmhand” at a large-scale Fairbanks marijuana grow was sentenced Friday morning to serve five years in federal prison.

Nathaniel Harshman, 20, admits to working on a 477-plant grow on the Elliott Highway in summer 2011. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could not have been sentenced to fewer than five years, the minimum for operations larger than 100 plants.

Harshman disputes allegations that he sold the drugs and tended about 1,300 plants, including a larger and more-productive 2010 harvest off the Elliott Highway. Such allegations are false and based on the word of a government informant, he said at Friday’s sentencing

hearing while reading a 40-minute paragraph-by-paragraph response to the government’s sentencing recommendations, which called for a sentence of about six years.

Harshman is the son of Floyd Harshman, who is in jail awaiting sentencing on charges related to the Elliott Highway grow.

During sentencing, District Court Judge Ralph Beistline said he believes the younger Harshman has shown he accepts responsibility for the crime. He told him the appropriate way to challenge laws one doesn’t believe in is by lobbying Congress.

“I know you love your dad. He’s an articulate guy. He can be very charming. But that doesn’t mean all his advice is good advice,” Beistline said.

Harshman’s lengthy comments appeared to take Beistline by surprise. Partway through, Beistline asked him to stop to be sworn in as a witness so his words would be considered testimony. He told the younger Harshman he would make a good lawyer and asked him more than once if his father helped him prepare his comments.

Mystiek Lockery, who spent 3 1/2 months in jail awaiting trial on now-dismissed charges related to the marijuana grow, attended the sentencing. She said she was glad Harshman received the minimum sentence.

“I believe (Beistline) listened and took things into consideration,” she said.

It did not affect the sentence, but Beistline ruled against Harshman on the issue of whether he possessed a weapon in furtherance of a drug crime. In his statements, Harshman argued there were guns at the Elliott Highway grow as protection from animals. Anchorage attorney Burke Wonnell, who represented Harshman, said it does not make sense to apply a gun law designed for urban gangsters to a  “farmhand” on the Elliott Highway.

Beistline said the guns still were part of the drug operation, regardless of whether they protected the operation from animals or people. He also questioned whether they also were not used to deter people, referencing “At Your Own Risk Road,” the turn on the Elliott Highway that led to the grow and to a no trespassing sign that read “trespassers will be shot, survivors will be shot again.”

“That sign was meant for more than a passing moose,” Beistline said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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