The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced that John Van Hazinga, aka “Big John,” 42 years old, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss to 5 years of probation following his felony conviction for distributing marijuana, a Schedule I controlled substance. Van Hazinga agreed in his plea agreement to the forfeiture of $67,189 of drug proceeds seized from three of his properties, and also agreed to file amended tax returns for this undeclared income.
According to Court documents, Van Hazinga has been involved in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana in Chittenden County since at least 2004, utilizing his business Ridin’ High to facilitate those efforts. In 2009, Van Hazinga was convicted in state court of selling marijuana. In 2013, Van Hazinga was convicted in state court of felony marijuana possession for his possession of more than a pound of marijuana. In 2015, while on state probation, Van Hazinga was again convicted of felony marijuana possession for his possession of more than a pound of marijuana. Van Hazinga was on state parole at the time of his 2019 federal arrest.
During the summer of 2018, the Burlington Police Department (BPD), with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), began an investigation into the distribution of marijuana for profit out of defendant Van Hazinga’s business, Ridin’ High, located at 2 Pearl Street in Burlington, Vermont. The investigation was spurred by community reports that individuals at the store were selling marijuana to juveniles. One woman reported that she worked as an interventionist, and had spoken to multiple boys between the ages of 13 and 15 who reported they had purchased marijuana at Ridin’ High.
An undercover BPD detective conducted five purchases of marijuana and/or THC-infused edible products. Law enforcement efforts revealed a potential grow operation at Van Hazinga’s residence in Underhill, Vermont; e-mail correspondence with Van Hazinga’s co-defendant revealed her willingness to sell a bulk order of THC-infused products, and links were discovered between Van Hazinga and a rural camp located in Keene, New York.
On July 24, 2019, law enforcement obtained federal search warrants for the Ridin’ High commercial location in Burlington, Van Hazinga’s residence in Underhill, Vermont, and the rural camp in Keene, New York. On August 5, 2019, the undercover BPD detective conducted a final controlled purchase of marijuana from defendant Van Hazinga, utilizing serialized currency during the transaction.
On August 6, 2019, BPD and DEA executed the search warrants for the Ridin’ High location, the Underhill residence, and the Keene camp. At the Ridin’ High location, agents seized three bags of suspected marijuana, nine jars of suspected marijuana, marijuana-growing literature, a marijuana grinder with residue, and two small digital scales. A large safe in the bathroom contained suspected marijuana, marijuana extracts, and THC-infused edibles. At the Underhill residence, agents discovered a suspected grow operation that laboratory testing revealed to be a mix of hemp and marijuana plants. $9,000 in cash was seized from Van Hazinga’s vehicle, and an additional $33,289 in cash was seized from inside the residence. Within the currency, agents located the serialized bills used during the August 5, 2019 controlled purchase from Van Hazinga. At the Keene camp, agents seized $24,900 in cash, 18 jars of suspected marijuana, a jar of suspected hallucinogenic mushrooms, five bags of suspected marijuana, and eight suspected marijuana plants.
United States Attorney Christina E. Nolan commended the investigative efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Burlington Police Department, and thanked the Vermont Air National Guard for their assistance.
“DEA has a sworn duty and responsibility to enforcing drug laws enacted by Congress, which make marijuana illegal,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “DEA will continue to enforce federal laws as it pertains to our mission. This investigation demonstrates the strength of collaborative local, state and federal law enforcement partners in Vermont and our strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
The United States was represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt. Van Hazinga was represented by Paul Volk, Esq.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years