Marijuana Farms Funded With Meth Lab Proceeds

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Mar 6, 2001.

  1. By Don Thompson, Associated Press
    Source: Contra Costa Times

    When 8-year-old Matthew Hunt and his father, William, were shot as they hunted on their own land last fall, they illustrated a growing danger in California. The pair stumbled onto a marijuana garden hidden in a remote El Dorado County section of the Sierra foothills.
    They were severely wounded by a man police say was hired to guard the patch and about 1,200 recently harvested marijuana plants. They survived, while their alleged assailant and his purported employer are awaiting an April trial on attempted murder charges.

    "Right now, we're starting to get into planting season," said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes. "But the most dangerous time is during the fall harvest season."

    In the past few years, large pot farms have started popping up in the Sierra foothills and near metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, said California Department of Justice spokesman Mike Van Winkle.

    What's more, authorities confirmed through drug transaction records seized last year that California's dangerous and heavily polluting methamphetamine labs are increasingly tied to marijuana production, he said.

    "We saw the Mexican cartels control the large-scale meth labs, and they're using the profits for their marijuana operations -- raising enough money in the winter to go into the marijuana business in the summer," Van Winkle said. "The methamphetamine operations are bankrolling the marijuana operations. The marijuana is where the real margin of profit is."

    In October, state and federal authorities arrested 10 alleged members of a Mexican drug cartel said to be growing marijuana in national forests in Ventura, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

    Agents seized drugs with an estimated street value of $200 million, including 40 tons of marijuana, 28 pounds of methamphetamine, 17 pounds of cocaine, more than 50 rifles and handguns and $85,000.

    As many as eight people tended one San Bernardino National Forest garden just 90 minutes outside Los Angeles. They rigged an elaborate system using water from a nearby stream to irrigate more than 10,000 pot plants, authorities said.

    Mexico-based drug operations that once smuggled marijuana into the United States figured out it in recent years that it's easier to simply grow the crop here, Van Winkle, Mathes and other law enforcement officials said.

    The crops often are planted in remote areas on public land like California's national forests, where the number of marijuana plants seized by authorities jumped fourfold, from 22,000 in 1999 to 100,000 last year.

    Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon to find such plots booby-trapped with tripwires and fishhooks hung at eye level, Van Winkle and Mathes said.

    Now, most of the sites have armed guards, particularly during harvest season when poachers might steal the ripening marijuana.

    "There's where the big threat to public safety comes in. There's large, big money at stake here," said Mendocino County Sheriff Tony Craver. "These guys are paid to shoot people who come into the garden. All they've got to do is pull the trigger and run like hell for Mexico, and they know that."

    Two of his deputies where shot at last summer when they stumbled onto a garden north of Willits, though neither was hit.

    Last year, the team pulled up 31,583 plants, second only to Kern County, according to the state Justice Department. Statewide, more than 345,000 plants worth $1.3 billion were seized in 263 raids -- but just 16 people were arrested.

    Kern County, north of the greater Los Angeles area, vaulted to the top over the Emerald Triangle counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity in remote northwestern California after deputies found a 59,000-plant garden in the Sequoia National Forest last year.

    At a street value of about $4,000 a plant, the garden was worth $236 million for a relatively low budget enterprise, Van Winkle said.

    It was the largest pot plot ever discovered in California, accounting for more than one-sixth of the total marijuana seized last year. Police found 40 sleeping bags along with food and other supplies -- but the camp was abandoned by the time they arrived.

    Hikers and campers who stick to established trails and campgrounds usually won't run across the pot plots, Mathes said.

    The sites can be readily identified by the bright green crop, irrigation pipes, trash piles, and often a pungent, sweet smell from the ripening buds, he said.

    "If you do stumble on one of these sites, you should instantly leave -- instantly," Mathes said. "We're beyond the days of a few hippies growing these plants. These people aren't kidding around."

    Note: Increasing peril to hikers and hunters as mammoth pot plots use armed guards.

    Source: Contra Costa Times (CA)
    Author: Don Thompson, Associated Press
    Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Contra Costa Newspapers Inc.
    Address: 2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

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