Alleged drug trafficker Chase Hanson used a combination of threats and debts to keep Dane Bennett working as manager for Hanson’s San Luis Obispo County cocaine operation, Bennett testified on Thursday and Friday.
Hanson, 26, of Morro Bay is accused of running the largest cocaine trafficking operation in recent county history, until he was arrested in August 2015 following a 9-month-long Sheriff’s Office investigation that involved wiretapped phones and extensive surveillance reminiscent of TV shows like “The Wire.”
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Bennett, 28, worked as Hanson’s right-hand man, supervising the defendant’s alleged drug-trafficking organization, which reportedly sold cocaine, marijuana and MDMA, also called “molly” or “ecstasy.” Bennett’s testimony came as part of a plea agreement with the District Attorney’s Office.
“(My job was) to manage and basically take care of everything so he stays out of the limelight,” Bennett said early on in his time on the witness stand.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The two men first started working together around 2012, Bennett testified, when Hanson “asked if I wanted to sell drugs for him.”
At the time a cocaine addict himself, Bennett said he agreed but that he left the partnership following a felony domestic violence conviction. He said he moved to Washington state, got sober and was trying to put his life back together. But Bennett testified that about “10 months, maybe a year” after he left SLO County, Hanson called him.
Hanson told Bennett he owed $10,000 for legal expenses related to the domestic violence charge and said it was time for Bennett to work it off. Bennett said he was scared of what would happen if he refused.
“He’s actually extremely smart. He could find me if he wanted to,” Bennett testified. “So I finished rehab, and he bought me a plane ticket and flew me back.”
That was in January 2014. Bennett said he went to work as “the manager” of Hanson’s alleged drug operation. He said he was responsible for coordinating with “the holder,” the man in charge of holding the cocaine stash until it could be distributed to dealers, and the drivers, who were responsible for transporting drugs, money and anything else illegal.
Bennett said the defendant taught him what to do.
In recordings played in court on Friday, Hanson was heard giving orders to Bennett on several occasions. In one instance, he chastised Bennett for failing to keep the rank-and-file in line.
“I shouldn’t even be involved in this,” Hanson was recorded telling Bennett in one recording.
Though Bennett said he was able to pay off his initial debt to Hanson in just a few months, he was afraid of the consequences of leaving. He said Hanson told him he was in too deep.
“I could not get out of the game. That is what Hanson told me, that I was stuck,” Bennett testified.
The witness said Hanson often would intimidate him by reciting Bennett’s Social Security number, or the home address of Bennett’s grandmother.
“He would just be random, like mocking,” Bennett said. “What was I going to do, call the cops?” he said at a later point.
In one recording, Hanson is heard on the phone to Bennett, expressing his anger with a driver whom Hanson suspected of stealing $6,000. Hanson asked Bennett if he knew of a remote place where Hanson could meet the driver.
“I’m about to whack this f--king fool,” Hanson was heard saying, admitting he was speaking in anger.
Bennett said the last straw was when driver Alexander Matarese was pulled over in possession of three kilograms of cocaine purchased in Bakersfield. As the middleman, Bennett said, he would be held responsible for the lost money.
“It’s a scary thing to owe (Hanson) money,” Bennett said.
He testified that while he contemplated, and even started planning, a robbery of an area marijuana dealer to try to get enough money to pay Hanson back, he ultimately decided that instead he would leave the organization when Hanson made a planned Aug. 10, 2015, trip to Ireland.
Instead, on Aug. 5 of that year, Hanson, Bennett and seven others were arrested.
Bennett testified on Friday that being arrested came as a relief, that he felt safer in jail than as a free man.
“If we all got arrested, that’d be better than me owing Chase,” he said.
The trial is expected to resume Monday.