Thursday, August 13, 2009

Little Green Houses Author Bio

David A. Kearns is a graduate of Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne Florida with a degree in geological oceanography. Mr. Kearns is a former journalist for Florida Today newspaper covering police beat news, city and county government, and the environment. He also served the United States Peace Corps as an advisor to small-scale farmers in rural Honduras, Central America. Mr. Kearns has taught science at Brevard County schools, chemistry and oceanography at Florida Air Academy of Melbourne Florida. Mr. Kearns is the author of Where Hell Freezes Over (Thomas Dunne Books 2005) the story of the crash and rescue of the crew of the US navy seaplane George 1 in Antarctica in 1946/47. Mr. Kearns is the son of one of the survivors of that crash

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Little Green Houses Sample Chapter

Proposal continues for...

Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown Organized Crime

Non-fiction/current events
Circa 300 pages with photos
by David A. Kearns

Sample Chapter
Chapter Two
Case Study:Main Street Pub

"Faulty reasoning that marijuana isn't a drug"

MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – It's called Main Street Pub and it's got one hell of a history behind it. The owners bought a two-story frame house on half an acre and converted it to a full-service, liquor bistro overlooking New Haven Avenue. They built a massive tiki-bar in back with an adjoining patio. The kitchen was the first in town to offer seared ahi tuna, done to perfection on a bed of chilled lettuce.
In the men’s room downstairs there was an old, framed print of a smirking Sean Connery as James Bond oozing style, class and machismo with a dash of the exotic. That was what Main Street Pub was all about.
This was back in the economic boom days of 2004. As the building and credit bubble grew, so did the customer base. At first it was just a few folks from off work on a Tuesday afternoon. Within three months it would be infamously jam-packed every night; wall-to-wall funsters dripping disposable income and easily-got credit. Huge tabs for rare and expensive wines, flaming drinks of exotic booze, icy delights of seduction in a Caribbean colonial setting.
According to law enforcement all of it was started on a foundation of illicit proceeds gained from the covert, mass production and sale of marijuana grown in a non-descript 3/2 ranch house in the community of Grant-Valkaria, about twenty miles to the south.
The grow house reportedly had two, five-ton air handlers working twenty-four seven. As well as an elaborate system of bulwarks on the front door to thwart rippers and law enforcement. Walls had been knocked through, every single square-foot of living space dedicated to the hydroponic cultivation of cannabis sativa; sinsemilla, bud, herb, ganja, nugs, skank, chronic, krypto - whatever you want to call it.
You imagine the young plants, just over 1,000 of these innocent looking juveniles standing at attention under bright lights in the small, neatly-tiled room. The hum of the air handlers as these plants turn into dollars, which are then sluiced back into the business to pay for the start-up costs and renovations of Main Street Pub while providing income to the owners. The lights blasting from the cracks under the garage doors, the skunky, yet, sugary-sweet smell of the buds, sweating THC into the air as they thrived; these gave neighbors to the home the customary signals. Yet for nearly one year, no one tipped the police. No one said a word.
Twenty miles north the smell of tonic and lime joins piped-in music, after-sundown fools laughing, spilling drinks on each other, whistling to crowds of girls walking up and down New Haven Avenue. College kids, retirees, lovers, elderly couples, drunks, engineers, teachers, getting hammered beneath all the festoonery and flat-screen televisions; the cops giving the place the wink and the nod, hardly pouncing on woozy patrons as they drive away.
Hipster kids behind the bar in the back patio as the reggae played. They were your best friends in the world, it seemed. They loved you like kin with free shots of novelty booze every now and then. A smile, a joke, or a light up your smoke, a hell of a good time.
What the bar staff knew, precisely and when did they know it? There is no telling. People needed work and the place was happening. If they did know, they never peeped a word to the patrons.
You rarely ever saw the owners, Thomas Cross or Joe McAneney. Thomas Cross, 52, of Melbourne Beach, co-owner of the Main Street Pub had no police record prior to his initially successful foray into the drug trade.
He did what many of us imagine doing; he did what certainly many Caribbean rum runners and whiskey distillers in the woods of Tennessee and North Carolina did in the 1920s. He got rich and then invested the money into a profitable, legitimate business, and he surely planned on shedding the illegal one before anyone got wind of where all the money came from to start up.
Sure, perhaps you’d do the same thing, if you had the guts. Banks aren’t loaning these days. Economic times are tough. Small business owners pinched in the crunch are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat. Layoffs are rampant.
How many of us haven’t looked at a small space in the closet, garage, or even in tool shed on our property and thought about making a go of it?
Cross went further than mere talk or imagination. He actually did it. He took a purposeful, bold leap across the legal line. He risked his family’s future, their $300,000 Melbourne Beach home and mortgaged a small property in Grant to grow his weed, cops said.
Joining him was lifelong friend and business associate Joseph McAneney, 51, also of Melbourne Beach.
Everything went exactly according to plan, right up to the moment police smashed down the door of his grow house and found the crop.
In the end however, the pair of men could have done a lot worse when it came to sentencing.They were able to keep the family bar, which is now run under the directorship of their wives. They paid more than $600,000 in fines for their crime.
As part of a plea arrangement, the men were given two-year sentences each in federal penitentiary as well as fifty hours of community service, and three years probation.
The bar still is a prominent feature on New Haven Avenue today. Sean Connery’s image still receives confessions during rest-room breaks, and Main Street Pub still serves a mean, seared ahi tuna.
At sentencing, through his attorney, Thomas Cross intimated that like many of us he hadn't been convinced in the total, illegality of marijuana. This "faulty reasoning" his attorney said, prompted the decisions which led him eventually to jail.
Cross and McAneney may not, at the moment, enjoy their current predicament. But perhaps they were ahead of the curve.
Because with law enforcement agencies statewide, and nationwide, forced to reduce their staffs, it seems now, more than ever, this industry is growing despite stiffer penalties, despite widely publicized arrests of otherwise law-abiding citizens who get into the business of growing pot in small spaces.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

LGH: Guns, drugs, nudity, grow house!

Copyright David A. Kearns for the book proposal Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown, Organized Crime.
Non-fiction, circa 300 pages with photos.
Yeeeeeehaw, y'all!
One tries to imagine a story more quintessentially Florida “…deputies raid nudist camp in search of marijuana.” That was the Orlando Sentinel’s take on what happened Aug. 10, in Osceola County.

This bare line, begging the question, were deputies more offended by the former or the latter hedonistic activity? One imagines the beefy deputies slathered in sweat, encondomed in Kevlar and green polyester knit, dying in the 95 degree swelt, chasing after those fleeing nudists high on the Devil’s lettuce. We picture the guilty hopping like spring bucks into the sawgrass, giggling with their naughty-parts flapping in the breeze, getting that last toke in before they are tackled to the ground.

Nice going Orlando Sentinel! Can you imagine their newsroom this morning? Can you hear the gleeful comments, and the back-slapping? Can you see the newsroom smiles? There’s nothing more sinister than a newsroom smile.

This would all be perfectly excellent good fun – and perhaps it still is – were it not for what was found inside a secret closet belonging to someone in the mix of this story; some shadow figure who is now in jail without bond. Guns, sniper rifles, home-made bombs, a mortar launcher, a Mac 11 machine pistol!

As you read, you get the gist of the story. The cops stop a young couple for possession of cannabis, who both immediately flip on their alleged supplier.

They tip cops off to the presence of a grow house inside a trailer, inside the nudist colony. (Live in that millisecond as the cops ponder whether or not to enter the nudist colony in search of dope. Sublime tragic-comedy, isn’t it?)When the cops go to break down the doors of that alleged grow house, they find evidence of some sort of cultivation, all the gear, but no pot plants.

They search the home of the alleged culprit and find a stash of dangerous weapons inside the “secret closet.”

Crafty reporter to have gotten this nod to the big-screen by his editor; again our hats are off to him. But is the accused a gun dealer, or does he have ties to gangs, and or even, heaven forbid, domestic terror?

And what of the arrest? Will any of it stick in court? Does the word of someone who is admittedly high on marijuana constitute probable cause to go breaking down any doors in the dawn hours

What a mess.

Will we hear more on this? Will the reporter actually follow up? Likely as not, hell no. No, the reporter has done his job. He's informed us a little bit and he's out of it. He's on to the next bit of news which will form more of that joyous tableaux we like to point a stick at and call "Floriduh!"

Which, on two levels, is where I come in. Especially if someone finds the sense to fund this book!

See? The problem, and the opportunity to organized crime, is only growing, and will continue to do so. By this time next year the phenom of the grow house will be a monster spread out all over the country.

Agent: Get in on the ground floor of this story now! If this is your first time to this blogsite, read the proposal!Email me back with your thoughts, hopes and dreams for this book!

Kearns is the author of Where Hell Freezes Over (Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Little Green Houses Outline.

Well, okay. You've made it this far and, fantastic! Quick, house-keeping notes from a few more emailed questions.

1. Would I ghost-write this, while working with a "branded/platformed writer?" Oooooo, yeeeeeaaaaaaaaah, uhm, I'm gonna have to go ahead and say no to that? Especially if, no one wants to tell me who that special someone might be? See, that doesn't work for me to sign something like that up-front in an informational vacuum. Not good.

2. (At the other end of the spectrum) "You shouldn't blast email people! I hate you!" Yeaaaaaaaaah, uhm? With apologies, the bread-line business-model, the soup-kitchen slush walk that we writers all know and love isn't going to work with a topic this hot. And I've mentioned this, previously. With all due respect to hard-working, honest, gutsy, excellent agents out there who understand the need for this book NOW, while the topic is hot, you can understand why I have to do what I am doing now, can't you?

Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown Organized Crime
By David A. Kearns

Circa 300 pages with photos. Non-fiction, current events

II. An Outline: Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown Organized Crime

1. The state of the problem in Florida

2. Early Case Study: Main Street Pub, Melbourne Florida 2005

3. Brevard County

5. The marijuana life-cycle and effects of THC on the human brain.

6. How a grow house is made.

7. Ties to organized crime and gangs.

10. Hazards of Grow houses

11. Why Deltona? Innordinate number of cases in one town?
11. The heartland: Orange, Polk and Osceola counties

12. South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe

13. Southwest Florida
14. Tampa-Hillsborough

15. The Panhandle

16. Jacksonville County

17. Grow houses and law enforcement efforts
18. The shaky state of Florida prisons versus the marijuana trade
19. The future and responsible public policy

Little Green Houses ON FIRE

Copyright David A. Kearns

While creating the blog and posting bits and pieces of my proposal to it, police and firemen were busy scratching their heads at a house fire on Seabold Road in the southwest corner of my fair city. This all took place Friday morning in the pre-dawn hours. By 8 a.m. as I worked, the southeast corner of the home was engulfed.

The house is a loss now as is most of the marijuana crop that firemen and cops found smoldering inside. The front of the house had been “dead-bolted” according to the cops, so when the fire started the fireman had trouble getting in, delaying them, adding to the total damage. Police told local news the fire started in the attic space in some jury-rigged electrical wiring. Owners, or renters, had overloaded the system to account for the extensive lighting. The home also had hurricane plywood over the front windows and the garage door.

If fire fighters have trouble getting into the place when fire starts, and the electric system had been tampered with in a way making it more prone to fire, the cops rule it arson, which is where this ruling sits now.They do that because the city of Palm Bay suffered massive fires covering nearly all the lower half of the city in the spring of 2008. Imagine the New Jersey Pine Barrens with little streets, sparsely dotted with 3/2 ranches, each on a quarter acre; no hydrants for miles. Throw in some kudzu, palmetto for tinder. Yeah, like that.

Technically this is one of my neighbors. Yet, I don’t think the owner bought the house for its central location. A search of the tax rolls shows that she bought both the lot the house sits on, and an adjacent lot facing the street behind her less than two years ago. I drove by the house to get snaps and noticed another house on the street has hurricane shutters on it recently purchased as well. The appraiser’s office website shows that this latter house is owned by an out-of-state couple. Grow houses can mimic investment properties and the reverse. The chain of events leading to ownership can be very confusing. But a check of property ownership can give investigators some hints as to where the grow houses may be found. Often, those buying a grow house will have paid above top dollar for a quick sale. They have selected the house more for its anti-location with respect to typical real estate deals. Quiet, secluded, yet with quick access to Interstate 95.A red flag might be a house owned less than one year where the previous owner paid $120,000, and the new owner paid $220,000, especially if that home was bought after the mortgage crisis already began and property values were on the decline; especially if that house and the surrounding street is valued at below $100,000.

The great part about my city from the grower’s perspective is the pine-shaded anonymity it still affords. People come and go, cars come and go. Who is the owner, who is the renter? Jittery neighbors who just want to quietly go about their business, and miles and miles of streets laid down by General Development Corporation back in the 1970s. It’s a jigsaw puzzle of streets, trees, and watery canals laced throughout. Perfect for the grow.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Little Green Houses 5

Copyright David A. Kearns

Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown Organized Crime

Circa 300 pages with photos

(book proposal continued)

5. The Market for the book Little Green Houses.

It's a Perfect Storm, for pot! There is no reputable book out, at this time, covering the phenomenon of marijuana grow houses and there should be.

Let us state that again: this is a new topic, it’s very hot, it’s been all over the news and no one has written a book covering the phenomenon with a journalist’s eye toward objectivity and straight-forward detail.

Television network CNBC just produced “Marijuana Inc.” an hour-long special which focused mostly on California, but did touch on grow houses. CNN through Anderson Cooper has discussed the new trend several times recently. In the age of instant information, whether a book in the past of a similar nature will do well, also has to be measured against what is on YouTube and how many hits it is receiving. Grown houses, and film clips sent in by law enforcement, are all the rage. Most of the film clips are coming from the state of Florida, where tougher laws have done nothing but spread the phenomenon around. There is even a nine-part series called “How to Build a Basic Indoor Weed Grow-room” produced by something called “Letushelpyougrowweed” and the hits on this new video clip on YouTube are into the tens of thousands, as of Aug. 3, 2009 and growing every day.

Little Green Houses would take advantage of this market. Anyone interested enough to sit through the whole nine, series of ten-minute videos on how to grow pot, would certainly opt for a book that outlays the state of the business in the busiest state of the industry; a book that details the pitfalls of involvement with organized crime as well as law-enforcement efforts to shut it all down. Little Green Houses is written in a tone and style that is also useful to those in law enforcement, and perhaps more importantly, those affecting public policy in Florida, and all fifty states. I imagine this as a work that either side of the aisle in both houses of congress could hold up and either lambaste for giving away too much information or praise for giving the country an honest picture of the problem, the market, and the need for clear thinking on the issue of this widespread substance.With members of congress holding your book up on C-SPAN and yelling about it, either to praise or damn it for its audacity, we can see there is a ready-made marketing plan.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Little Green Houses 4

"Ain't that America, for you and me?"
"Ain't that America, something to see, baby!"
"Ain't that America, the home of the Free!"
"Little (Green) Houses, for you and me!"
-from Little Pink Houses, by John Cougar Mellencamp
Proposal continues for
Little Green Houses: Florida Grow Houses and the Rise of Home-Grown Organized Crime.
Copyright David A. Kearns
4 Central Florida: The new epicenter As a result of recent busts in Dade - and organized crime anticipated it - the emphasis of the effort shifted elsewhere; namely upstate where jobs have been lost in the defense industry, and homes which had already been more reasonably priced than those in south Florida, became even more readily available on the cheap.
There is a fully operational marijuana grow house not five miles from where these words are being written in the city of Palm Bay, Brevard County, Florida. It is “undetected” by the police. It represents only one of several within the community of Palm Bay and surrounding areas of South Brevard.
If you were offered the chance to essentially live in a house rent free for a salary of $23,000 per month, you might consider such an opportunity to be heaven-sent. You might even bribe local officials to look the other way if you took it.
The quiet no-snitch complicity model of course is in affect for the neighborhood because, you’d at least keep your mouth shut if you knew all about it. The reason here being, with all this money flying around which officer or public official does one trust with the information? Regarding Palm Bay, police have told the city council they need to purchase a powered hang glider for surveillance to establish probable cause in many of these cases before they can gain a warrant. They had wished to purchase a remotely operated drone for this purpose but both of these requests have been denied by the citizen board.
Complicating this issue are new laws which render the heat envelope, as measured by infrared cameras, useless as trial evidence. Strangely these restrictions came in the same package of laws which reduced the felony hurdle of cultivation for personal use, from 300 plants to just 25. As always it is a felony to cultivate with intent to distribute, or raise a kid in the presence of such criminal activity, or arm yourself in the commission of any of the previous offenses.Lawyers are gearing up to assert that the airspace over a person’s house, then, is not subject to random, aerial intrusion, either. In other words, just as a cop cannot go peeking into windows without cause, so too, one can argue, they cannot fly over people’s houses looking into their backyards for random evidence of crimes. And real estate law in Florida tends to bear this out. The property rights of the landowner have traditionally extended above the property lines and out into space. With that, of course comes the right to privacy, and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
The hurricane shutters on the suspicious home in this author’s neighborhood have been pulled down tight over this dwelling since well before the 2004 hurricane season and have remained locked down tight ever since. There are numerous “beware of dog” signs around it. The same vehicle, a van with tinted windows, is backed up to the driveway every day; better to both conceal the license plate, and perhaps allow for the van to accept cargo from within the garage in a rapid-deploy fashion. No one ever seems to be home. In twelve years living near this home, passing by it, my wife and I have never seen a face. There are always excess bags of fertilizer laying around outside, yet there are no potted plants outside it that would seem to require it.
Every so often, an extremely expensive sports car with dark tinted windows and south Florida license plates is seen parked outside the home.This scenario, which will be described in detail within the pages of Little Green Houses, is common in the city of Palm Bay, just as it has become more common in Deltona, Orlando, Apopka, Titusville, Grant-Valkaria, Vero Beach, Melbourne, West Melbourne and many other cities in central Florida.In Hendry County, the operators have taken to building underground grow-bunkers on fallow, absentee landowner, parcels, and within parklands; a new trend in the business.Tougher drug enforcement in South Florida, complete with the newer laws, has pushed the operators northward into Brevard, Osceola, Polk, Orange, and Volusia Counties, and westward into Hendry, Pinellas, and Sarasota.