Following Guilty Plea, Local Attorney Could Face Up To 5 Years In Federal Prison

A Benson attorney indicted in December by a federal grand jury for his alleged involvement in marijuana grow business has pled guilty.   

Joseph Lee Levinson, a Benson lawyer, was among three people named in the federal grand jury indictment filed in US District Court in Greensboro on December 14th.

Also named were Aubrey Manasseh Pruitt from Orange County and Dustin Garrett Fisher from Durham County.

The indictment alleges Pruitt and Fisher operated a marijuana grow business between December 2005 and December 2010.  Authorities alleged Levinson helped obtain houses where the indoor grow operations were located and Levinson funded and recruited several investors.  Levinson also received cash and drugs from the operation.

On Tuesday, Levinson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured financial institutions, according to Ripley Rand, United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. Levinson will be sentenced by United States District Judge James A. Beaty, Jr. in Winston-Salem on May 19, 2016.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Levinson remains out of custody on pretrial release pending sentencing.

From 2005 until 2010, Jotham Walker Pruitt and other individuals operated a marijuana “grow” operation in Orange County. The operation involved the production of marijuana inside houses near Hillsborough.

Joseph-Lee-Levinson-FILevinson, a licensed attorney practicing and a college friend of Pruitt, conspired to obtain mortgage funding for properties to be used as “grow houses,” knowing full well that banks would not loan money to Pruitt if they knew that the houses were to be used for illegal purposes.

Levinson and Pruitt prepared loan applications to Long Beach Mortgage Corporation and SunTrust Bank falsely representing that the properties would be used for legal purposes, such as a residence or as rental property. Levinson acted as closing attorney for purchase of the first two grow houses used in the operation.

Levinson also conspired with Pruitt to present false leases to Countrywide Bank to support Pruitt’s application for mortgage funding to purchase a third grow house. Levinson provided Pruitt with a sample lease to use as a template in creating false leases to present to Countrywide Bank  showing that previous properties purchased by Pruitt were rental properties occupied by tenants. In fact, these properties were being used to grow marijuana.

The grow operation ceased in December 2010. Upon completion of the business, Jotham Pruitt ceased making payments on the mortgages on the grow houses, including those he had purchased with the aid of Levinson. The houses were foreclosed on by the lending banks at a total loss of over $250,000.

Levinson is also reported to have recruited investors into the drug operation, who would invest $25,000 into the drug operation to cover expenses and the purchases of homes and would receive a 100 percent return on their investment. Levinson allegedly kept $10,000 of the money for one investor for his own use while the remainder went to cover the costs of the drug operation.  

Pruitt also travelled from Durham and Orange counties to a pre-determined meeting place in Wake County to deliver cash proceeds from the operation to Levinson.  If cash proceeds were not available, Pruitt would deliver marijuana grown and produced at the grow house to Levinson. 

In May 2012, Levinson is also alleged to have given a false statement to an investigator with the IRS that he had no knowledge of the business. 

Pruitt has already pleaded guilty to related federal charges. Charges remain pending against other individuals indicted in connection with the scheme.