3,000 pot plants seized in illegal Garfield County grow
Fourteen people were arrested Monday in a bust of an enormous illegal marijuana grow operation between Rifle and Silt, authorities said.
A joint Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team and Drug Enforcement Agency operation discovered the large, and long-established operation, which Sheriff Lou Vallario estimated to be about 30 to 40 acres on Mile Pond Road.
Vallario said he suspects that some of the people arrested at the grow operation, believed to be Chinese nationals, are in the country illegally. Along with TRIDENT and the DEA, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is working the case.
Investigators are also considering the possibility that some of the suspects are victims of human trafficking and forced labor, Vallario said.
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Sheriff’s deputies discovered the operation when they became suspicious that the property was surrounded by privacy fencing and suspected something was being grown there, said the sheriff.
While watching the property, deputies saw a U-Haul truck drive away. They stopped the vehicle and discovered it was packed full of what Vallario estimated to be up to 1,000 marijuana plants.
The sheriff’s office then obtained a search warrant from a U.S. attorney.
When law enforcement raided the grow operation numerous people on the property scattered. In addition to the 12 men and two women arrested, the sheriff believes another half-a-dozen people probably escaped on foot.
These suspects are believed to be living elsewhere in the community, as they weren’t living at the grow operation itself.
Vallario said they appeared to be in the middle of harvesting. All of the marijuana was grown outdoors, and a log cabin on the property, gutted on the inside down to its plywood floors, was being used for part of the process.
Garfield County Road and Bridge personnel later brought heavy equipment to help dig up and move close to 3,000 marijuana plants, said the sheriff. Law enforcement finished pulling up all the plants Tuesday.
“They’ve obviously been doing this for a while, possibly for a couple of years,” Vallario said.
The U.S. Attorney may move the case to federal court, he said.
The investigation is also seeking the owner of the property.
The sheriff said this isn’t the only illegal grow operation in Garfield County.
Opponents of marijuana legalization, who include Vallario, have been saying that legalization will not eliminate the black market. Rather, it’s an opportunity for organized crime to move in and take advantage of the cover created by legalization.
“We are not going to tolerate this anymore. Whether you’re growing one plant illegally or 1,000 plants, we’re going to come after you, shut you down and arrest you,” Vallario said.
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From cocaine and methamphetamine drugs busts to locating armed and dangerous suspects, K9s with the Garfield County Sheriff’s office routinely find themselves in life or death situations.