Walworth County couple gets probation, jail time over pot growing operation
That was the undisputed assessment of Freddie and Amy Rickel when Walworth County Judge John Race had to decide Friday on the severity of their sentences.
The choices: county jail, where the Rickels on work release could care for their son and daughter; or prison, a punishment that likely would force the kids into foster care and devastate the marriage.
Their 12-year-old son was in court and remained emotionless throughout the proceedings, except for fighting back tears when his mother read a letter of apology.
The boy was there to support his parents and not pull on Race’s heartstrings, a defense lawyer said.
Race sentenced both to probation with Amy Rickel, 41, ordered to serve 60 days in Walworth County Jail and Freddie Rickel, 45, to serve a year.
Prison would have been too harsh of a punishment for either of the Rickels, Race said. Both had spotless criminal and juvenile records before pleading guilty to two felony drug charges, he said.
Amy Rickel was once president of the parent-teacher organization at her children’s elementary school. She resigned after the drug bust.
“I don’t consider this a trifling matter,” Race said. “It wasn’t a high school kid smoking a joint or someone selling ditch weed. They had a significantly grave marijuana growing operation.”
Race said his sentencing decision was largely swayed by the children’s care.
The Linn Township couple was arrested in January 2010 after the Walworth County Drug Unit raided adjacent homes at N1510 and N1518 Geneva Ave. and found nearly 159 live and drying marijuana plants and 20 bags of marijuana stems and seeds in one of the homes, according to court reports.
The Rickels were charged with felony drug manufacturing and possessing with intent to deliver related to growing pot plants for about a year and a half in the basement of a home, according to a criminal complaint.
Assistant District Attorney Josh Grube argued that Freddie Rickel should receive a prison sentence and his wife should be placed on probation. A presentence report made the same recommendation.
Grube said he could not grasp how a loving couple with children could operate the criminal enterprise of growing and selling pot.
“They knew what they were doing,” Grube said. “This was not a casual hobby but a lucrative business. They were both in it side by side.”
Generally, the husband handled planting, and she tended the plants and packaged the harvest, which was about two to three pounds a month, Grube said.
“I can’t say Mr. and Mrs. Rickel are bad people, but what they were doing was bad,” Grube said. “I think they were good parents. I think they love their children. But you can’t be a drug dealer in the community and not expect significant penalties.”
David Danz, who represented Amy Rickel, said she was desperate to stay with her children, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who plays sports and plays in the school band, and a 7-year-old second-grader who loves cheerleading.
Amy Rickel told Race she would never again commit a crime.
“Place me on probation for the rest of my life, and I will not violate it” she said. “You will never see either of us in your court again.”
When Stephen Cramer, who represented Freddie Rickel, talked about the couple’s longtime love for one another, Amy and Freddie’s eyes met. She smiled.
Cramer said one reason the couple started growing pot is that they were financially strapped.
“Can we give him a little slack for the great things he’s done?” Cramer asked Race of his client.
Freddie Rickel was a caregiver for two dying relatives, Cramer said. His father and stepfather died of lung problems, Race later elaborated. The memories broke Rickel’s stoic stare as his eyes welled with tears.
Race said the couple was not a danger to society, and they could decide who serves the first sentence. One of them must report to jail within 15 days.