Former S.C. Highway Patrol trooper Kurt Steffen had dreams of being a farmer while he worked as a state trooper.
But not just any kind of farmer a marijuana farmer.
His dreams were dashed Monday when a federal judge sentenced him to five years in federal prison for manufacturing and possessing with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants.
Its a shame Steffen chose to squander the good will that the good members of the S.C. Highway Patrol have worked so hard to earn for the people of this state, said U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles.
Evidence presented at his sentencing hearing in Charleston before U.S. Judge Weston Houck showed that Steffen while employed as a trooper was a key part of a large-scale indoor marijuana operation.
After Steffen was hired by the patrol in May 2007, he purchased 300 Stable Lane, a five-acre tract of land in Ridgeville. A longtime friend introduced Steffen to people in the marijuana-growing business, and that was how he got involved, said assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Bianchi, who prosecuted the case.
Steffen then spent about $4,000 on fans and lights and other equipment needed to grow marijuana indoors, Bianchi said.
Steffen and his pals began growing marijuana, having multiple harvests and yielding thousands of dollars worth of profit, according to prosecutors.
Steffen even used his patrol car to haul the pot, prosecutors said. Moreover, when his associates began transporting marijuana, Steffen used his troopers car to escort the smugglers, prosecutors said.
A vital clue that led to the unraveling of Steffens operation was the electric bill. A local power company worker mentioned to a Dorchester County sheriffs deputy one day he thought someone might be stealing electricity from Steffens property because the property seemed to use a lot of electricity.
Deputies visited the property, smelled marijuana and executed a search warrant. That led to the arrests of several of Steffens associates, some of whom were on the farm at the time of the search.
The other break came out of a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation into Lowcountry marijuana-growing operations. Arrests in that case eventually led to Steffens, Bianchi said.
Earlier this year, days before he was scheduled to go to trial, Steffen pleaded guilty. His co-conspirators also have pleaded guilty.
A statement from Patrol Col. Mike Oliver noted that Steffen resigned as a trooper in 2009 just before being charged.
This situation is not a reflection on the professionalism and service of the men and women of the South Carolina Highway Patrol who dedicate themselves each day to protecting and serving our state, Oliver said.
As part of Steffens plea deal, the federal government is taking ownership of his farm and likely will sell it.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.