69-year-old convicted in sophisticated marijuana operation

Published 11:45 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

Sidney Larry Pernell, a 69-year-old Raleigh, N.C. man, was sentenced in Lunenburg County Circuit Court to one year and two months in prison after being convicted of being involved in one of the largest and most sophisticated indoor marijuana growing operations in Lunenburg in quite awhile, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Clement.

Sydney Larry Pernell

Sydney Larry

Clement said that the judge would have likely imposed a much lengthier sentence if it had not been for his extensive medical conditions. Pernell had a previous conviction for smuggling hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the United States from South America in 1983 for which he served six years in federal prison. According to Clement, the defendant’s health conditions include congestive heart failure, having suffered three heart attacks in the past, a fibrillation for which he has an implanted cardiac defibrillator and cirrhosis of the liver.

The judge delayed his reporting to jail until September so he could have another procedure done for his heart, as well as to allow Piedmont Regional Jail the opportunity to fast track him into the Department of Corrections so the local jail can minimize its exposure to the medical responsibility.

The trial and sentencing had been continued for more than a year because of the medical problems.

Clement said the case arose from information gained from North Carolina state agents suspecting Pernell of being involved in distributing marijuana. Surveillance led them to a house at 445 Elsaesser Road in Meherrin in Lunenburg.

The local drug task force, under the direction of state agent Jason Lacks and special officer Adam Martin of the Lunenburg Sheriff’s office, executed a search warrant and found that the entire house was full of marijuana plants, grow lights with 1,000 watts, a watering system and an extensive air-conditioning system, including a central air-conditioning system as well as window units in nearly every window.

According to Clement, 135 plants were found in one room and 79 plants in another, as well as 50 root balls and some harvested marijuana. The walls of one room were lined with aluminum foil, and even the bathroom was used as a starter room for seedlings.

Pernell was found at the scene, and admitted that he was growing the marijuana, but said it was only for personal use. He would not implicate anyone else. Lacks calculated that if the plants grew to maturity, they would have produced more than 7,000 joints, said Clement.

The house was located on property in the name of a deceased individual.    

In addition to his sentence, Pernell has an additional 23 years and 10 months suspended on conditions of good behavior for 25 years, supervised probation upon release, substance abuse counseling, warrantless searches and seizures and a $10,000 fine.

A 12-gauge Remington shotgun, two shells, a Colt .22 rifle and ammo were also seized. Due to the finding, Pernell was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in addition to being convicted of manufacturing marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, as a result of the marijuana that was already harvested, Clement said.

Pernell received 10 years to his sentence, with eight years and 10 months suspended on manufacturing marijuana, 10 years suspended on the possession with intent to distribute charge and five years suspended on the possession of a firearm by felon (non-violent prior conviction).

Pernell’s 2006 Cadillac and large-screen television were seized and forfeited by the court.

He is currently released on bail and resides with his wife in Raleigh.