Side jobs are common among Buffalo police officers, but Jorge I. Melendez had a unique one.
He grew marijuana.
Melendez, a four-year veteran of the department, admitted Tuesday to running a marijuana-growing operation while he was a police officer. He made the admission as part of a plea deal that is likely to send him to federal prison for at least five years.
“How does a police officer get involved in something like this?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio asked Melendez on Tuesday.
“It’s just extremely poor judgment,” he answered.
“Extremely poor,” said Foschio.
Prosecutors claim Melendez oversaw an operation with more than 1,000 plants and at times made stops at his warehouse, sometimes while in uniform and on the job, to check on them.
They also claim that Jason Elardo, Melendez’s alleged partner in the grow operation, handled the day-to-day operation and paid the former officer for the use of his warehouse. Elardo committed suicide last year.
“The defendant was paid $10,000 when the marijuana was harvested,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Opanga said of Melendez.
Opanga said harvests at the warehouse, located at 2157 South Park Ave., took place about four times a year.
As part of his plea deal, Melendez admitted taking part in a conspiracy to manufacture 100 marijuana plants. He also stopped well short of admitting he checked on the plants while in uniform.
“He think it’s best for he and his family to resolve the case,” said Buffalo defense lawyer Jeremy D. Schwartz.
Melendez’s guilty plea – his deal still must be accepted by Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny – follows a similar plea by the man accused of taking care of his marijuana crop.
Robert Osika, 47, admitted tending to about 400 marijuana plants between 2009 and 2012 as part of his own agreement with prosecutors. Osika pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana plants and now faces up to 18 months in prison.
At the time of his arrest in 2012, Melendez was accused of overseeing an operation that included two warehouses, two homes and more than 1,000 marijuana plants. He was fired by city officials after his arrest.
The yearlong investigation into Melendez started with the State Police and Drug Enforcement Administration, but also involved the FBI and Buffalo police.