March 9, 2009

‘Santa Bob’ sentenced for growing pot

A Maryland man known as Santa Bob to school children who visit his Christmas tree farm has avoided prison after his conviction for growing pot on there.

Robert Chance, 62 -- a Harford County ecologist and former high school teacher -- has been sentenced to 18 months supervised probation and given a two-year suspended sentence instead, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

Chance was sentenced in Baltimore County Circuit Court for growing marijuana and possessing psychedelic mushrooms on his Environmental Evergreens Tree Farm. He had faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges initially brought against him, but agreed to a plea deal, the newspaper said.

Harford County detectives and investigators from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided Chance's farm last May and found 19 growing marijuana plants, more than a pound and a half of packaged marijuana in freezers, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The federal government filed a civil complaint to seize Chance's house and farm under a law that allows the taking of land used for illegal drug dealing. After paying a $35,000 fine in December, he was allowed to keep the property.

Chance is a member of the Harford County school system's educators' Hall of Fame and served as a Bel Air, Md., town commissioner during the 1970s. He has operated nature camps for children using the name Ranger Bob, which he previously used when he would appear on the children's TV show Romper Room.