NILES — A partner in a company that hopes to obtain a medical marijuana grower’s license in Niles is set to stand trial on felony charges of soliciting prostitution from a minor, delivery of narcotics to a minor and child sexual abusive activity.
At a preliminary exam Tuesday, Berrien County Trial Court Judge Sterling Schrock ruled that prosecutors presented sufficient evidence against Michael Heskett, 50, to send the case to the county’s circuit court for a trial in February.
In Michigan’s legal system, a preliminary exam is a hearing where a judge determines whether or not the prosecution has presented probable cause to support charges against the defendant and binds the case to circuit court for trial. The preliminary exam hearing does not determine a verdict in the case.
Sean Drew, Heskett’s defense attorney, said he is still confident his client will be acquitted at trial where the burden of evidence is higher than a preliminary exam.
Assistant prosecuting attorney Nicholas DeRyke did not responded to a request for comment.
According to court documents, Heskett allegedly gave crack cocaine and marijuana to a 16-year-old girl on multiple occasions in November and December 2019 at his Niles residence. When investigators searched the girl’s phone, they say they found “numerous” pictures of her snorting white powder and smoking from pipes, cigars and e-cigarettes.
Prosecutors also found “numerous” sexually explicit photos and videos on the girl’s phone. The girl told investigators that she took many of the images while at Heskett’s residence.
Niles police received an arrest warrant for Heskett on April 15, and he was originally charged with delivery of narcotics to a minor and child sexual abusive activity. The soliciting prostitution from a minor charge was added during the preliminary exam based on testimony from the alleged victim in the first part of the hearing last week.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Heskett’s attorney argued there was insufficient proof that the substance Heskett allegedly provided the girl was cocaine and that Heskett was not required by statute to stop her from taking explicit photos of herself.
Schrock said Michigan statute did apply based on its wording and considering the alleged offenses took place in Heskett’s house.
“The duty that’s imposed by the statute is if you’re an adult, you’re not allowed to let kids do this,” Schrock said.
Heskett’s trial date is scheduled for the week of Feb. 15.
Heskett is a partner in HDS Investments, which received preliminary approval for a Class C medical growing license in March 2019 and has spent $2 million to build a medical marijuana growing facility on the corner of Lake and 13th streets.
David Harns, communications manager for Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said HDS’ application for a medical grower’s license is still pending.
If Heskett is convicted of a felony, HDS would be ineligible to receive a state license, according to a statute in the application.
The application’s code also states that the Marijuana Regulatory Agency can consider the “integrity, moral character, and reputation” of an applicant and whether an applicant has been charged with or arrested for a criminal offense.
In 2018, the state’s licensing board denied applications from Oasis Wellness Center, which had applied for a facility in Niles and other towns across Michigan, because of arrests that were not disclosed by the applicant. The licensing agency denied a handful of other applications throughout Michigan in 2019 and 2020 because of the “integrity and moral character” of the applicants.
A Class C growing license would allow HDS to grow 1,500 cannabis plants.
Tribune, Marek MazurekSouth Bend. “Partner in Niles Marijuana Business Going to Trial for Alleged Activities with Minor.” South Bend Tribune, 19 Aug. 2020, www.southbendtribune.com/news/marijuana/partner-in-niles-marijuana-business-going-to-trial-for-alleged-activities-with-minor/article_a02170a8-e189-11ea-a813-37fc0d4de1a5.html.
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