The former Metal Church bassist arrested

August 27th, 2010
by Arto Lehtinen

Pierce County authorities say they’ve busted a three-county marijuana-growing operation they believe was led by a Puyallup man who once played bass in a local heavy metal band.

Investigators recently raided a number of homes, businesses and storage units allegedly tied to the operation, finding guns, homemade explosives, drugs and manufacturing equipment, court records show.

They also confiscated a number of assets owned by Stephen Wesley Ungerbuehler, including a boat, a truck, two cars, a motor home, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and 20 guitars.

Investigators say Ungerbuehler, 41, led the operation from May 2008 until his arrest Monday and used two businesses in Spanaway and Thurston County to sell marijuana.

Prosecutors charged him Wednesday with leading organized crime, unlawfully manufacturing a controlled substance and money laundering. Pleas of not guilty were entered on his behalf.

He’s being held in Pierce County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Ungerbuehler was known as Steve Unger when he played bass for Metal Church from 2004 to 2009. The group, which formed in 1980 under the name Shrapnel, disbanded last year.

Ungerbuehler’s attorney, Jay Berneburg, said his client “adamantly denies” the allegations against him. Berneburg said Ungerbuehler is a professional musician who travels and has earned his money legitimately through record sales, concerts and other contracts.

“This is another case of the war on drugs run amok,” Berneburg said.

Prosecutors also have charged three others – Barry Louis Goodwin, Zachary James Saiz and Jason Blaine Christopherson. The men were arraigned Wednesday on charges of unlawfully manufacturing a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

Court documents provide the following information:

Drug-unit deputies were tipped several months ago that Ungerbuehler was operating or financing several marijuana grow operations in homes in Pierce, Thurston and Lewis counties.

They set up surveillance of the homes, storage units and businesses allegedly tied to the operation, including The Detail Shop in Thurston County and Kamel Toe Bar and Grill in Spanaway. Investigators also used a GPS device to track Ungerbuehler’s activities.

Deputies learned Ungerbuehler operated or set up marijuana grow operations for five people. Two of them later told investigators they had been having money trouble, so they agreed to go into business with Ungerbuehler, court records show.

Goodwin, 41, and Saiz, 25, are corporate officers of The Detail Shop. Investigators allege Ungerbuehler provided them with marijuana to sell at the business.

Investigators recently served a search warrant on Goodwin’s and Saiz’s home in Olympia and found 10 pounds of drying marijuana, scales and packaged marijuana ready to be sold, court records show. Three marijuana plants were in the backyard and a cargo trailer – registered to Ungerbuehler and parked on the property – contained 76 knee-high marijuana plants.

At a Spanaway home, investigators located a gun, a half pound of marijuana and a room set up to grow the drug. A woman who lives at the home told deputies she let Ungerbuehler set up a marijuana grow operation in her house. The woman has not been charged in the case.

“He taught her how to tend it, and then he would harvest it and give her money,” charging documents state. “She felt that he wasn’t giving her enough money, so she had him remove the grow.”

Investigators searched a Lewis County home and found rooms in the basement had been set up for a grow operation. The power had been diverted to the basement, and venting and electrical equipment for a large operation was still in place. They found no marijuana.

The tracking device on Ungerbuehler showed he visited the home on a regular basis, court records show, and detectives determined he had been paying rent on the house for about two years.

Deputies searched a second home in Olympia and found more than 100 recently harvested marijuana plants. Christopherson, 25, lived at the home and told investigators he helped Goodwin and Saiz harvest the plants, according to court records.

Investigators recently served warrants at storage units associated with Ungerbuehler.

At one in Rochester, they found homemade explosives “as dangerous as a half stick of dynamite” and equipment for grow operations. Deputies also confiscated seven handguns, nine rifles and six shotguns, court records show.

Deputies who arrested Ungerbuehler at his Puyallup home allegedly found $1,700 cash on him, a gun under his mattress and a small amount of marijuana.

In addition to a number of vehicles, they seized $4,000 cash and assorted electronics worth $10,000, court documents state.

The Sheriff’s Department checked Ungerbuehler’s income record with the Washington State Employment Security Department. The agency said Ungerbuehler reported no wages from the first quarter of 2006 until the first quarter of 2010. The IRS reported that Ungerbuehler had not filed an income tax statement from his business since 1997, according to charging documents.

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