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High-Profile Tacoma Pot Activist Booked On Cold Case Drug Murder

Pierce County law enforcement officials say they’ve cracked a cold case murder that happened more than 20 years ago, and the investigation has ensnared a high-profile Tacoma marijuana activist.

Michael Schaef is a self-styled cannabis consultant who’s run medical marijuana dispensaries and co-founded a Tacoma “vape bar” that operated, until it was shut down, in a gray area of Washington’s pot law.

But back in 1991, Pierce County prosecutors say he was a garden-variety drug dealer, and the trigger man in a drug-related murder.

Prosecutors say victim Jerald Iafrati and his girlfriend drove to Schaef’s apartment, planning to buy a large amount of pot. Instead, they say Schaef and another man tried to rob them. When the couple tried to flee, say prosecutors, Schaef shot the man through the passenger window.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said no one was charged at the time.

“Initially there was considerable circumstantial evidence pointing to the defendant, but the witnesses, who were all involved with drugs in one way or another, were reluctant to talk,” Lindquist said. “Now they're talking.”

Lindquist said the break came when a new Tacoma police cold-case unit reopened the investigation. He said Schaef’s ex-wife spoke out and implicated him in the murder, and other witnesses backed up her statements.

Schaef was booked into county jail on $1 million bail.  

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.