More than 1,300 pounds of processed pot uncovered in bust
Local officials say their tactics to battle pot-growing seem to be paying off. Meanwhile, the Feds have a new strategy they're starting up in Kern County.
In the latest raid by Kern County officers, specialized law enforcement units from multiple agencies served a search warrant at a large property on North Wheeler Ridge Road near Arvin, the sheriff's office said Thursday.
The property contained numerous mobile homes, a large warehouse containing an indoor marijuana garden and several tractor-trailers.
Hung, dry and processed marijuana was discovered in the warehouse and trailers, the sheriff's department said. More than 155 pounds of processed marijuana bud, packaged for sale and almost all packaged in 1-pound bags, was located on the property.
Marijuana was being grown both indoors and outdoors.
Big grows like this have been the focus of a crack-down on operations in the Central Valley, especially on prime farmland. That effort was led by the U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.
On Wednesday, Wagner announced more than 120,000 plants, and 1,509 pounds of processed marijuana have been seized in Operation Mercury. It was a joint effort of federal and local enforcement.
"Operation Mercury targeted large-scale marijuana grows operating in the Central Valley's highly productive farmlands resulting in significant seizures and numerous arrests," DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams said in a statement. "This operation should send a clear message that marijuana cultivation and distribution remain illegal under federal law."
The officials said during 2011, more than 110 agricultural grow sites were found in Fresno County, and some 60 identified in Madera County.
In Kern County, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said officers are seeing a lower number of marijuana operations on farmland than other Valley areas.
"We're seeing a slow-down in the grows," Youngblood said on Wednesday. "Kern is kind of an anomaly." He chalked that up in large part to the ordinance passed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors that allows only 12 plants on any parcel of property.
An undercover narcotics officer told Eyewitness News, marijuana grows on local farmland is down to one-tenth of what they had seen. He also calls the new county ordinance a "great law."
Meanwhile, federal officials are taking aim at grows in remote, mountain areas by filing additional charges for the use of illegal insecticides and rat poisons on marijuana grows.
On Thursday, a federal grand jury issued two indictments in drug cases in Kern County. One was a garden near Greenhorn Creek, the other is a grow site near Lilly Canyon Creek. Both are on Sequoia National Forest land.
An undercover officer told Eyewitness News those chemicals are so hazardous, staff from the Environmental Health department are called in to handle them. He said cans of the pesticides were found at the remote grow sites, and at a home in Bakersfield belonging to one of the suspects.
In those cases, suspects have already been arrested. The Department of Justice announcement on the new indictments said the suspects will be arraigned on the new charges on Oct. 1.
In the Kern County raid in Arvin on Wednesday, six men were arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of conspiracy, cultivation of marijuana, and possession of marijuana for sale.
They were identified as: Bernabe Hernandez, 52, of Bakersfield; Nicolas Hernandez, 26, of Bakersfield; Martin Galvan, 25, of Norwalk; Emmanuel Apodaca, 21, of Cerritos; Matthew Green, 27; of Bellflower; and Alex Apodaca, 20, of Cerritos.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood said on Wednesday his officers will continue to stay tough on marijuana growing operations.
'We're seeing less activity," Youngblood said. "Maybe because (the growers) are going someplace else, but whatever the reason, we're having some success."