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Naperville man could get life in pot-growing case

Updated: September 9, 2012 6:08AM

A Naperville man could be sentenced to life imprisonment after admitting his participation in a large-scale marijuana-growing operation in downstate Paw Paw.

Eric M. Konrady, 26, faces sentencing Nov. 19 in the case. He pleaded guilty Friday in Rockford to felony charges of conspiring to manufacture 100 or more marijuana plants and possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug conspiracy.

Konrady and three associates were arrested March 26, 2011, by a team of federal, state and local law enforcement agents. The other men included Benjamin F. Garcia, 27, of Aurora; and Donald P. Cipra, 28, and Shannon L. Gregory, 40, both of Paw Paw.

All four were taken into custody at two homes they rented in Paw Paw, in Lee County. The town has about 850 residents and lies 50 miles west and south of the area.

Authorities found and seized a total of 458 marijuana plants in various stages of growth in the basements. They also confiscated items used to grow marijuana, a pound of harvested marijuana, $1,100 in cash and 13 firearms.

Those weapons included an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle belonging to Gregory; a Glock semiautomatic handgun found in Cipra’s possession; a Taurus semiautomatic handgun belonging to Konrady; and a Springfield Armory .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun taken from Garcia, according to a five-page, 2011 grand jury indictment.

Konrady, Cipra, and Gregory had been scheduled to go on trial Monday. Cipra and Gregory on July 12 pleaded guilty to the same charges as Konrady, and are set to be sentenced on Oct. 19.

Garcia pleaded guilty in December and will be sentenced Sept. 14. Cipra, Garcia and Gregory, like Konrady, face sentences of 10 years to life in prison.

The case was investigated by the Rockford Resident Agency of the DEA’s Chicago field office and the Illinois State Police Blackhawk Area Task Force. Sterling police and investigators from the sheriff’s offices of Henry, Lee and Whiteside counties also participated in the probe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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