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Schwarz enters last-minute guilty plea

SLAYTON -- A Slayton man has avoided a two-day trial on drug charges by entering into a plea agreement with the state.

Travis Schwarz, 22, whose trial was to begin this week, will serve less than a year in a local jail for his part in a marijuana grow operation discovered last fall. Schwarz, who was charged with one count each of first-, second-, third- and fourth-degree controlled substance crimes, pleaded guilty Monday to the third-degree charge, which is a felony.

The plea agreement offers Schwarz a stay of imposition on the condition he serve 270 days of local incarceration and submit to chemical dependency testing. He will get credit on his jail sentence for time served immediately after his arrest in September and can also get credit for up to 60 days of any inpatient treatment he completes. He will be eligible for work release while he serves his jail sentence and will also serve five years of probation.

Any fine he is charged will be up to the judge's discretion. The judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation, and sentencing is set for 10 a.m. June 9.

Schwarz was arrested in September during an investigation into a marijuana grow operation in Cameron Township. He and Austen Witte of Balaton were taken into custody while watering marijuana plants, which allegedly belonged to Chase Sanderson of Slayton.

Authorities had staked out the area after being given a tip about the marijuana plants hidden in a cornfield. Police reports say after Witte and Schwarz were arrested, Sanderson's name came up as the owner of the plants. Because Sanderson was jailed on an unrelated manner, he had allegedly asked others to take care of watering his "crop." When Schwarz and Witte were arrested, they were using Sanderson's truck, which was equipped with a large water tank and hoses.

Witte pleaded guilty in March to third-degree controlled substance as part of an agreement that includes a sentence of 180 days, with 90 days served in jail and 90 days on electronic home monitoring. His sentencing is scheduled for May 12.

During the investigation, Sanderson and several others were also charged. While being interviewed by authorities, Sanderson denied being involved in any marijuana grow operation and said there was nothing in the pickup truck but a toolbox when he left it with his friend.

Sanderson is scheduled to go on trial June 12.

Schwarz has a prior drug conviction, having pleaded guilty to fifth-degree controlled substance in 2005. He was serving a five-year probation period when he was arrested in September.