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Judge gives Salem engineer with underwater mortgage year in jail for growing pot

BRENTWOOD – A Salem man who started a marijuana growing operation as a way to raise extra money to pay for an inflated home mortgage received no sympathy from the judge.

Henry Danico, 47, was sentenced to a year in county jail Monday after pleading guilty to manufacturing a controlled drug.

Judge N. William Delker rejected an argument that Danico should serve little or no time behind bars in light of medical marijuana being legalized in other states.

"That argument carries zero weight with me," Delker said. "Regardless of whatever is going on in another state, the New Hampshire legislature decided to make a policy decision the manufacturing is a very serious offense that carries substantial state prison time."

Delker added, "No state in this country made your conduct in any way, state or form legal."

Prosecutors say Danico was caught by Salem police with 88 marijuana plants inside his home on Aug. 7, 2011. He pleaded guilty to the drug charge last month in Rockingham County Superior Court.

Danico had converted part of his home to an indoor marijuana growing operation, according to Assistant County Attorney Michael Zaino.

"He had a rather sophisticated growing operation," Zaino said.

Prosecutors had argued for a 1½- to 5-year state prison sentence.

Zaino said the plants discovered by police were in various stages of growth, showing that Danico's activity was not based on a one-time lapse in judgment.

"When you break it down to brass tax, it's an ongoing decision and ongoing choice," Zaino said.

Defense lawyer Sven Wiberg argued that a state prison sentence for his client would be too harsh of a punishment, comparing it to a similar case in the last year that drew a no-time sentence.

Wiberg said his client, an engineer by trade, had no criminal record prior to his arrest and insisted on pleading guilty prior to jury selection in his case.

"I have never seen it in my career before," Wiberg said, adding that his client asked to go to jail on the day he pleaded guilty before he was even sentenced.

Wiberg said Danico only turned to growing marijuana once his mortgage increased to an amount greater than what he initially owed as a result of the housing crisis.

"He was underwater. When things blew up, he went from having equity to being an owner of a house with a balance on mortgage that was greater than what he owed."

Danico will remain on probation for two years.

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