Calaveras County sheriff deputies on Thursday afternoon executed a search warrant at a cavernous steel building at the former county airport in San Andreas, and arrested dozens of workers who were allegedly drying, processing and packaging cannabis.
The facility, at 833 Highway 49, was divided into two main areas and each had a number of rooms filled with sophisticated cannabis processing equipment and thousands of pounds of processed and drying product. A statement from the Sheriff’s Office on Friday, when the marijuana was eradicated, said more than two-and-a-half tons of marijuana was seized.
Sheriff Rick DiBasilio said 37 workers were arrested and included men and women from as far away as Bulgaria and as close as California. It was an international crew. He said processing would take some time, but expected all would be booked into the county jail on felony charges related to cannabis production.
As of Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office booking log showed that 17 individuals had been booked into county jail on charges of felony growing marijuana and conspiracy to commit a crime. On Monday, DiBasilio said the number of actual felony bookings was 15 and that 22 had been cited and released.
A Sheriff’s Office statement said workers came from Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico as well as from Bulgaria, Iceland, Colorado, Ohio and California. The statement said workers from Hispanic countries reported that they were not in the United States legally.
On Friday evening, Elias Egozi of Jackson contacted the Enterprise by email and identified himself as a director of Calaveras Cannabis, Inc. the corporation that was operating Unity B at the facility at 833 Highway 49.
“He wrote that the Sheriff’s Officer arrived for a routine inspection, which led to a “coerced violation of most parties (sic) 3rd, 4th and 5th amendment constitutional rights.”
He continued: “I’d like to go on record to discuss the compliance paperwork and documentation for the operation and the collective that was ignored by the Sheriff’s department. As you may know, although the Calaveras Commercial Cannabis Cultivation ordinance does not cover drying of the product, SB420 and Proposition 215 voted in to law by California voters afford patients the right to not only cultivate but also dry and process their medicine at any facility of their choice.”
Egozi, who could not be reached for comment by deadline Monday, said in the email that he intends to file a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office in regards to the “mass unlawful eradication … of medicine belonging to patients.”
Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook on Monday declined to discuss the specifics of an on-going investigation.
“In general, a search warrant is an order by a judge to go and search a location and seize evidence listed on the search warrant,” she said.
DiBasilio said the processing facility at the rear of the old airport complex where a children’s gymnasium once operated got the Sheriff’s Office attention several weeks ago when witnesses reported seeing increased activity at the site.
Investigators found that the address was registered with the Calaveras County Planning department as a growing site.
“But they were not growing. This was a huge processing center and the urgency ordinance permits growing and certain dispensaries, but not manufacturing, processing or transportation,” DiBasilio said. “So we shut it down.”
The size and sophistication of the facility was enough that it could have served as a processing center for several cannabis plantations, but firm evidence of an organization of that scope remains elusive, said DiBasilio.
The Sheriff’s Office reported that representatives from Calaveras County Environmental Health, Code Enforcement, the District Attorney’s Office and also representatives from the San Andreas Fire Department investigated the buildings, and found them unsafe to workers.
Modifications were made to the buildings – including doors that were bolted shut – that caused investigators to identify fire code, building code and health-and-safety-code violations.
“The location was deemed unsafe,” said the Sheriff’s Office statement.
A cannabis industry spokesperson, who commented on condition of anonymity, suggested that several county farms have growing facilities but lack processing operations.
While the extensive processing facility broken up Friday morning was registered as a growing operation only, the majority of the work done was processing. The only growing area noted by a reporter on Friday was small room brilliantly lighted by grow globes with a sophisticated hydroponic nursery in place.
According to the county’s list of cannabis grower registrants, the business is Mountain Farms Inc. and is registered to Raphael Calderon. Calderon had applied to operate an indoor growing operation with 10,000 square feet of canopy.
A search of a list of corporations at the California Secretary of State’s site found Mountain Farms, Inc., an active California corporation with an address of 154 Goldenleaf Court in Valley Springs.
The agent for the corporation is the For Purpose Law Group, 1435 30th Street in San Diego. Law group spokeswoman Mary Dowling refused to comment about her firm’s client.