Jesse S. Zuefle, owner of Club Diablo on Washington Street, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced felony charge in connection with last spring's seizure of 42 pounds of marijuana in the attic of the rental property he owned next door to his Richmond Avenue home.
In return for the plea, prosecutors ordered Zuefle, 36, to turn over cash seized in the raid to the federal and state authorities, along with a vehicle used in his marijuana business and the three-story building where the drugs were found.
Zuefle has been free on bail since the May 10 raid by the Erie County district attorney's office, the State Police and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He pleaded guilty before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia to first-degree attempted criminal possession of marijuana.
Zuefle is free on $10,000 bail pending his Jan. 4 sentencing.
Initially charged with first-degree criminal possession of marijuana -- which carries a possible state prison term of up to 5 1/2 years -- Zuefle now faces a sentence ranging from probation to 2 1/2 years in prison.
After the plea proceedings, narcotics prosecutor Glenn Pincus of the district attorney's office said authorities seized $150,000 in cash plus the marijuana and drug scales.
Under the plea deal, the cash, the property that was "the basis of his marijuana operation" and a Chevrolet TrailBlazer he used in the marijuana business will be turned over to and shared by the state and federal governments, Pincus said.
The raid was the result of a yearlong investigation by the three agencies, Pincus said.
Zuefle was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser felony charge because of his agreement on the confiscation of the cash and property, which have a combined value of about $250,000, and his previously clean record, Pincus said. His ownership of Club Diablo was not a part of the case.
U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said the seizure of Zuefle's property "should send a strong message to those individuals who believe that trafficking in marijuana is not a serious problem."
"Not only will this forfeiture action remove the money Zuefle made from his illegal business, but it also addresses the concern of his Richmond Avenue neighbors that should not have to be forced to live near an apartment building that was used as an illegal distribution center," Flynn said.
Flynn said a federal forfeiture complaint is now before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.