Former Marine Corps employee gets four-year sentence for selling marijuana on Okinawa
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND AYA ICHIHASHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2020
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A former U.S. government employee for the Marine Corps on Okinawa must serve more than four years in a Japanese prison for selling marijuana on the island.
Charles Yecla, 40, a civilian who worked for Marine Corps Installations Pacific at the time of his arrest last year, was sentenced Dec. 1 in Naha District Court to four years and four months in prison, the Okinawa Times reported Wednesday. He was also fined the equivalent of $9,600.
Yecla pleaded guilty Nov. 24, the first day of his trial, according to the report.
He was one of three American civilians employed by the Marines arrested between August and October 2019 for violating Japan’s Cannabis Control Act. He was accused of buying marijuana through the mail, growing it and selling it to the others.
His teenage son was also arrested as part of the police sting; information on the disposition of his case was unavailable from Japanese authorities.
Yecla “spread marijuana’s evil influence far and wide,” Chief Justice Hironobu Ono said at the sentencing, the Okinawa Times report said. “His behavior deserves the sentence.”
Marine Corps Installations Pacific spokesman 1st Lt. Tim Hayes confirmed Yecla’s employment but declined to provide further information Friday via email, citing the Privacy Act.
Okinawa Police said they’d broken up the marijuana ring shortly after referring charges for Yecla and the others to the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office Dec. 9, 2019. They declined to name the individuals at the time, citing the involvement of a minor and privacy protections.
Police alleged that Yecla began purchasing marijuana in February 2017 from Hironori Tokito, 42, a former Okinawa bar manager and a former assembly member for Umi town in Fukuoka prefecture, the Okinawa Times reported last year. Police said he began growing marijuana at his home in February 2019 and received a quarter of a pound through the mail from Tokito on two separate occasions in July.
Yecla sold marijuana to 13 customers at his home and his teenage son sold it to two high school students, police said. Yecla and his son were arrested at home on Aug. 3, 2019.
Prosecutors told the court Yecla sold marijuana from January to August 2019, Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting reported Tuesday. He earned more than $67,000.
After Yecla’s arrest, police found about a half-pound of dried marijuana worth about $10,600 and six potted plants, an Okinawa Times report said.
The father was charged with possession, possession with intent to profit, growing marijuana and violation of Japan’s Drug Exception Law, or knowingly and willingly handling an illegal drug.
Tokito was arrested Oct. 24 and charged with possession, possession for profit and violation of Japan’s Drug Exception Law, the prosecutors office spokesman said.
The two other unnamed Americans — a 30-year-old in Yomitan and a 39-year-old in Uruma — were arrested Aug. 30 and Oct. 23, after purchasing marijuana from Yecla, police said. They were charged with possession.
Tokito was sentenced Aug. 7 by Naha District Court to four years and six months in prison, the Japanese news outlet Nikkei reported Aug. 7. He was assessed a $9,600 fine as well as an additional $38,000 fine for profiting off the sale of marijuana.
In all, police arrested 20 people or referred charges to prosecutors for their part in the ring, the Mainichi newspaper reported Tuesday. Three have reportedly denied the accusations.