Crop Seizures Could Match Last Year's Record

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Aug 7, 2001.

  1. By Bhavna Mistry, Staff Writer
    Source: Daily News

    A record 111,000 marijuana plants were seized last year from the Angeles and Los Padres national forests, and authorities are bracing for what they say could be an even bigger harvest this year. More than 6,600 plants valued at more than $16 million were found last month in two gardens northeast of La Canada-Flintridge, and officials expect to find similar, sophisticated operations in the coming months.
    "There is a significant quantity of marijuana in the national forests throughout Southern California," said Kathy Good, a spokeswoman for the Los Padres National Forest.

    "We will be quite active in the next few months in detection and eradication." The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department confiscated 84,000 plants last year on federal land, with Ventura County officials uncovering 27,000 plants.

    "Last year, we had a record season -- the world's record for Los Angeles County," said Sgt. Robert Mueller, who heads the Marijuana Task Force for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

    Along with the large finds, last year produced a high number of arrests: nearly two dozen people believed to be members of a Tijuana drug cartel were arrested following a yearlong, multiagency investigation.

    "It was a large group involved in numerous cultivations in numerous counties," said Sgt. Bob Garcia, of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Unit. "Based on their sophistication, that was no first-time deal."

    Most of the 22 suspects have pleaded guilty to federal charges of cultivating marijuana and are awaiting sentencing, Garcia added.

    The arrests, which took place in Oxnard and throughout the San Fernando Valley, also netted weapons -- including 50 assault rifles and handguns with silencers -- nine vehicles and $85,000 cash.

    Authorities say the same amount of marijuana is grown in forest land typically between April and October of each year, but that the cultivators are becoming increasingly sophisticated in concealing their operation.

    "They use more and more remote locations that you and I would not think of," said Garcia, adding that the cultivators cut their own paths through the thick forest areas and transport their supplies and irrigation equipment with them. "It's a tremendous amount of physical labor."

    In the operation uncovered last month, for example, officials said that all the foliage on the 30-acre site had been chopped down to make room for the marijuana crop.

    Besides using remote locations, officials said, cultivators hang camouflage netting and natural vegetation over their crop to conceal it from routine flyovers. The suspects themselves even wear camouflage clothing and paint their faces to blend into the forest and avoid detection.

    And for months at a time, officials said, suspects will set up camp in the forest, living off the land and killing wildlife as the marijuana grows.

    "Every year I see more and more weapons," Garcia said. "I've been at cultivations were they've had deer and bear skin and found calendars that go on for months."

    With both water and sunlight needed to grow marijuana, cultivators will typically plant their gardens near a creek or other water source or run underground water lines.

    Last year, officials located two gardens that had tapped into water lines -- one from a campground, the other from a private business. As part of their operation, cultivators had also set up irrigation timers similar to a residential sprinkler system.

    "We kept wondering how they were getting their water," Garcia said. "Then we dug up their underground water line and timer. They didn't even have to be there."

    Though their procedures are kept confidential, officials said that they will routinely conduct helicopter flyovers to look for possible cultivations and work in conjunction with state and federal organizations to locate and eradicate gardens.

    But while they may find the gardens, it's rare that they come across the cultivators. Those who are sent to tend to their marijuana farms will abandon their plants, weapons and supplies once they hear authorities coming their way.

    "There is no way for us to approach these things quietly," said Garcia, adding that like the cultivators they also must cut their own path through the forest. "It's very difficult."

    Source: Daily News of Los Angeles (CA)
    Author: Bhavna Mistry, Staff Writer
    Published: Monday, August 6, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Daily News of Los Angeles

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