Brionne Corbray, seen here in an interview two days after his West Seattle and White Center medical marijuana facilities were raided by federal agents in 2011, pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking charges on Aug. 20.
UPDATE 2: Owner of GAME Collective marijuana dispensaries pleads guilty to drug trafficking
Brionne Corbray explains guilty plea from his perspective
Editor's note: While Brionne Corbray initially declined to comment on his guilty plea to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, he contacted the West Seattle Herald to explain his side of the story on Aug. 24. His comments can be found in italics below.
Brionne Corbray, the owner of GAME Collective medical marijuana dispensaries in West Seattle and White Center (both now closed), pleaded guilty on Aug. 20 to federal drug trafficking charges, according to U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in a Department of Justice press release.
The West Seattle resident, 47, who also owned and operated a dispensary in northeast Seattle, admitted to conspiracy to distribute marijuana in violation of federal and state law.
“These drug fronts had little to do with ‘compassionate care’ and everything to do with lining their own pockets,” Durkan said in a statement, also referring to the guilty pleas of Craig Dieffenbach, 61, and Jingjing Mo, 31, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative in Rainier Valley and Greenwood.
“While we will not prosecute ill people or their true care providers, we also will not let common drug dealers masquerade as something they are not,” Durkan said.
Corbray is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 16 in front of the Federal Judge Ricardo S. Martinez and faces up to 20 years in prison. According to Corbray, based upon the scoring system used by the federal court (the more trouble you've been in in the past, the higher your score and the higher your potential sentence), his lawyer said he was only facing up to five years in actuality and, by pleading guilty, he could serve less time.
After Corbray's establishments were raided by federal agents, he spoke to the West Seattle Herald/White Center News on Nov. 17, 2011.
In that interview, Corbray said, “We were not doing anything outside of state law. If we had really done anything wrong, we would be in jail.”
(Update) Asked to explain why he decided to plead guilty, Corbray said:
“There is no defense against medical marijuana federally. You can’t go to court and (win) … everybody who has gone up against the federal government and tried to fight it is in prison.
"My attorney said, ‘You will go to prison because what you did was illegal federally, period … you can either sign the plea agreement and stay out of jail and be with your family or you can fight it and go to jail.'
"I had to say, ‘I don’t want to go to prison over this,’ and so I signed it.
"All they have to prove is you did form a business to sell marijuana and I did. I formed a business to sell marijuana, there is no denying that."
Corbray insists he never broke any Washington state laws.
According to the Department of Justice press release, Corbray admitted to selling marijuana and hashish to undercover federal agents without valid medical marijuana authorizations “on multiple occasions” during ATF and DEA operations over several months in 2011.
The DOJ reports he also admitted to encouraging “customers to consume or smoke marijuana on the premises (at his White Center ‘lounge’) while also drinking alcohol,” and holding after-hours parties at the same location where alcohol and marijuana were served.
In addition, he admitted to purchasing a 2007 Mercedes Benz E550W for $34,000 in cash (proceeds from selling marijuana), according to the DOJ. The vehicle was forfeited to the federal government.
GAME Collective was one of several medical marijuana facilities across Puget Sound raided by DEA agents on Nov. 15 of last year. Those targeted were believed to be “operating outside the spirit of existing state law,” the DOJ said at the time.
According to the affidavit released after those raids, undercover agents visited Corbray’s dispensaries several times, showed invalid medical marijuana authorizations, and purchases anywhere from $100 to $300 in marijuana, hashish and THC-infused food items.
In one instance, at the White Center location that shut down late last year, a federal agent wrote that he bartered the trade of glass pipes for marijuana. He took a GAME Collective employee out to his car and, according to the affidavit, told the employee that he intended to resell the marijuana instead of use it for personal medical needs. The transaction was completed. In the Nov. 17 interview with Corbray and his employee involved in that transaction, the employee said he did not remember the agent saying anything about reselling.
Mo and Dieffenbach, owners of the Seattle Cannabis Cooperative, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in addition to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and face an additional 20 years in prison. The search warrant affidavit in their case stated a confidential informant, in a monitored transaction, purchased five pounds of marijuana for $11,000 with the stated intent of selling the cannabis in the Midwest.
“These defendants have accepted responsibility for their illegal actions which exposes the truth of what is happening in our community,” DEA Special Agent in Charge Matthew G. Barnes said in a statement. “There is no accommodation in either state or federal law which allows marijuana storefronts to openly operate within the State of Washington. The United States Congress has determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that its distribution and sale is a serious federal crime. The DEA remains fully committed to enforcing federal drug laws throughout the Pacific Northwest.”