Developer Randolph R. Ayersman has built some of rural Howard County's most beautiful gabled homes, selling for as much as $725,000.
But federal agents announced yesterday that they have taken away his dream-home business, saying he financed it through the sale of more than 3 tons of marijuana smuggled in from Mexico.
Ayersman, 42, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, and the Drug Enforcement Administration has seized properties including his $400,000 Dayton home, his nearby farm valued at $450,000 and seven choice land parcels valued at more than $800,000.
Ayersman's company, A&A; Construction, was to have built plush homes on the lots, which are in the Glenwood area, DEA officials said.
The land parcels were seized because they couldn't have been bought without the money Ayersman made during his 10-year smuggling operation, dubbed "Operation Easy Money" by drug agents, according to court records.
"He built some beautiful homes," said Agent Larry E. Hornstein, a DEA spokesman. "Problem was, marijuana helped him come up with the cash to build them. We seized the lots because he bought them with drug proceeds. Some dealers buy a Mercedes-Benz; he bought building lots."
When federal agents raided Ayersman's home Dec. 17, they found $150,000 in a second-floor bedroom safe and 320 pounds of marijuana "bricks" in an industrial-sized freezer in the basement, court records say.
Drug agents also seized $320,000 that Ayersman had received recently as payment for a house he had built.
Nine others have been charged, including Ayersman's brothers, Harold G. Ayersman, 40, of Woodbine and Wilbur C. Ayersman, 47, of Chula Vista, Calif. Like his brother Randolph, Wilbur Ayersman has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Randolph Ayersman was not a prolific developer, usually building one or two homes a year, according to investigators. But the homes he built were often showcases, usually starting at $300,000, DEA officials said.
His construction business had a handful of employees and often subcontracted work. Randolph Ayersman often left the state to ski or play golf, drug agents said.
"The home construction business is a good place for drug dealers to launder money in. There are large amounts of money exchanging hands, and it's often difficult to trace where it's PTC coming from," Agent Hornstein said.
The key break in the case came March 16, 1994, when Howard County police got a report of a break-in at the home of an alleged drug distributor who worked for Randolph Ayersman, according to court records. Police caught a man fleeing after the break-in, and he told police he had seen a large sum of money in a safe in the home, investigators said.
From there, federal and county drug officers began an eight-month investigation that pinpointed the source of the marijuana.
Packed in bricks, the marijuana was transported from Mexico to Southern California and eventually to Maryland in a secret compartment of a truck, investigators said.
The Ayersman ring typically bought the marijuana for $50 a pound in Mexico and sold it for $1,200 to $1,300 a pound in western Howard and Montgomery counties, DEA officials said.
"These guys were strictly wholesale dealers. They would sell their supplies in 100-pound bricks, and from there it would be sold on the street," an investigator said.
In all, marijuana weighing about 1,100 pounds -- worth nearly $2 million, the DEA said -- was seized in the multistate operation.
Among the others charged in the marijuana distribution scheme were Kenneth P. Garufi, 33, of Glenwood Springs; Dana M. Kleberg, 39, of Silver Spring; Charles Maier, 43, of Imperial Beach, Calif.; and Oscar Lucio, 30, and Arnold Aguirre, 43, both of Chula Vista, Calif.
Drug officials said they expect the seized properties, with a total value of more than $3 million, to be auctioned. Additional arrests are expected, they said.