‘Large scale’ pot bust snares SJPD officer

A San Jose police officer was arraigned today in Santa Clara County Superior Court Friday on charges of felony possession of marijuana with intent to sell in a case where police searched more than a dozen email accounts to obtain evidence, prosecutors said.

Son Vu, 44, appeared in jail clothing at the Terrain Courthouse, used for drug-related cases, in downtown San Jose and remains in custody in the county jail on $100,000 bail, according to court spokesman Joe Macaluso.

Vu, a 21-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department, has remained on paid administrative leave with the department since his arrest last June 4 and will remain on leave through the end of the criminal case, police said.

Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier said that a bail hearing for Vu would take place in court on Monday where Vu’s defense lawyers must reveal to prosecutors the source of funds to be used to pay the bond.

The case against Vu began last June 3, when the owner of a storage business in the 400 block of Tully Road in San Jose cut the locks on a storage locker where a renter had failed to make payments. Inside the owner found 12.75 pounds of marijuana and lights used to grow marijuana plants indoors, Vanier said.

Police determined that Vu had been renting the locker and during a search of his personal car recovered $5,700 in cash and a computer thumb drive containing digital files with information on police calls related to marijuana grow houses, prosecutors said.

Vu was arrested the next day but was not formally charged until more than 10 months later because police had to attain more than a half dozen search warrants for certain locations to find devices such as iPad tablet computers and telephones, Vanier said.

Warrants were also issued to search more than 12 email accounts and officers “had to wait for the service providers on those accounts to provide recordation, email correspondences,” Vanier said:

“So, that’s why it took so long. … Investigations like this that involve writing search warrants for social media sites as well as emails sometimes take a while for the companies, Hotmail.com, Gmail as well as Yahoo, to reply to the subpoenas and provide the appropriate recordation.”

Vu’s email showed that “marijuana cultivation equipment was ordered and there were discussions pertaining to marijuana,” the prosecutor said.

The fact that the case involves a police officer is “profoundly disappointing,” he added.

Any officer who engages in any illicit activity “tarnishes the reputation” of the police department and the officers who work hard on investigations each day, he said.

The department “did an incredibly thorough investigation” into Vu “and they are continuing to investigate this case and attempting to identify any additional individuals that may be associated with this conspiracy to distribute marijuana,” he said.

Vanier said that the 12.75 pounds of marijuana recovered from Vu’s storage locker was evidence of “a large scale operation” for selling the drug.

Since Vu’s car contained $5,700 in cash and the street value of the marijuana in the locker was several thousands of dollars, prosecutors want to know the source of the funds he would use to make bail and gain release from custody, he said.

“We have concerns in any narcotics case about the proceeds of the premium on the bail being posted by illegal sources, and so we want to be sure that when bail is posted it’s not posted in an attempt to launder thousands of dollars in currency,” he said.

The district attorney’s office will ask those putting up the bail money to sign sworn statements under penalty of perjury describing where the money is coming from, he said.

Vu’s motive in the alleged drug sales operation was simply profit, the prosecutor said.

If convicted of the charges, Vu faces up to three years and eight months in prison, he said.