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'Pot cave' man pleads guilty
May 15, 2006 12:00 am
May 9, 2006 – Clad in green Macon County jail uniform and bound in chains, Fred Lawton Strunk, the apparent mastermind behind the now-infamous Trousdale County "pot cave," pleaded guilty Monday to manufacturing more than 250 marijuana plants in Wilson County Criminal Court.
For his guilty plea, a judge sentenced Strunk to 18 years in prison. And as part of the deal with prosecutors, the 63-year-old man pleaded guilty to three of the 17 counts against him. The remaining 14 counts were subsequently dropped.
In addition to his admission of growing large quantities of marijuana, Strunk pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering and one count of theft. He received 12-year sentences for both crimes, which will run concurrently with his 18-year manufacturing sentence.
Since his arrest by state narcotics agents in December, Strunk has faced a variety of charges locally as well as in Florida, where police said he kept a large home stocked with cash and weapons.
But as a result of his agreement, all out-of-state charges have been "worked out," his attorneys said Monday.
Jack Lowery one of Strunk's attorneys, said he and his client were content with the terms of the agreement.
"It was just an offer the state made, and we felt it was a reasonable offer," Lowery said. "This should conclude his case."
Lowery noted his client's only prior offense was for reckless driving and hopes Strunk will be eligible for parole after serving the required 30 percent of his sentence.
Assistant District Attorney David Durham would not comment on the likelihood of a reduced sentence and eventual parole, but said he thought the sentence Strunk received from Judge J. O. Bond was "fair."
"It's a fair sentence. We're happy with it," Durham said.
Durham said it was not difficult to reach the agreement.
"The evidence in the case was overwhelming, and the way it was put together (by members of the 15th Judicial District Drug Task Force) was extraordinary, so it was not a hard choice," Durham said.
Starting in 1996, Strunk began building a home over an underground cave in Trousdale County, from which he launched one of the largest marijuana grow operations state law enforcement officials had ever seen, investigators said.
When authorities raided the cave in late 2005, they uncovered what they described as "an engineering marvel" built entirely by Strunk.
Aside from the 853 marijuana plants recovered from the cave, many of which were taller than six feet, authorities found a sophisticated underground layer used to house and arm the workers who cultivated the marijuana.
The cave included a staff dormitory and kitchen, a control room that pulled in more than 600 watts of stolen electricity and 30,000 gallons of water a month, multiple secret escape hatches operated with camouflaged hydraulic doors and outfitted with survival packs and weapons, a holding room for the plants measuring 10 yards wide, 15 feet high and 300 yards long, and many hidden entrances for vans and trucks.
When the cave was operating at its peak, Strunk was earning at least $1.2 million a year, according to the Drug Task Force's figures.
After confirming his desire to plead guilty and receive an 18-year prison sentence, Strunk was led away by Wilson County Sheriff's deputies. He was to be transported back to Macon County until he is assigned to a state facility.
While Strunk's sentencing brought to a close his involvement in the well-publicized drug bust, Durham said the case itself is far from closed.
"We've still got two other defendants, and we're still investigating," Durham said, without offering specifics.
Brian Gibson, 38, of Chattanooga, and Gregory A. Compton, 31, of California, were arrested in the December raid on the Strunk home.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.