23 workers arrested at four West Point cannabis grows

Seven of 23 cannabis workers arrested Tuesday morning huddle under the plastic sheeting of a cannabis drying shed while they await processing by Calaveras County Sheriff's deputies. They worked on an illegal cannabis growing operation that stretched over four sites less than three miles from downtown West Point.

Updated story: http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/news/article_ff3bf0c8-9c9a-11e6-8361-af6ccb3d82a9.html

Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday broke up four illegal cannabis farms a few miles from downtown West Point, arrested 23 workers and used three county dump trucks to haul hundreds of pounds of processed and drying product to the county landfill.

Sheriff Rick DiBasilio estimated that the street value of the haul could exceed $1,000 per pound on the California market and $3,000 to $4,000 per pound on the East Coast. The first and oldest grow site contained 500 pounds of processed and drying product, he said. 

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the exact weight of eradicated marijuana was not yet known by the Sheriff’s Office.

The eradication sites were on Argonaut Lane near Quartz Mountain and Skull Springs roads, 2.7 miles from the West Point Community Hall. DiBaslio said the largest of the four sites has been known by the Sheriff’s Office since 2013.

“We identified the other two when we flew over the area,” he said. The 8 a.m. raid disturbed the cannabis workers at their breakfasts. They were rounded up and kept under guard at two of the sites and sat huddled under blankets and the plastic sheeting of a processing shed while they waited in a light rain to be transported to the Calaveras County Jail.

DiBasilio said the workers would be booked into jail on suspicion of felony cannabis cultivation and property owners would face citations for environmental degradation, which could be processed as civil matters.

“But I’d bet they will all be out on bail by the end of the day,” he said of the workers arrested at the farm. “They really don’t care. Their bail will probably be posted in cash.” DiBasilio said the arrests and eradication were “uneventful.” While some of the arrested workers appeared nervous or anxious, no one was confrontational or aggressive and all responded calmly to processing questions by sheriff personnel.

DiBasilio said an investigation into the property’s owners and residences of the arrested workers suggest a connection to the San Jose area.

“And I think we will find connections to south Bay Area Asian gangs,” he said.

The investigation was the result of a three-week effort that led investigators to a residence in Milpitas where the Calaveras-grown Indica-strain cannabis was discovered. That turned the investigation back to Calaveras County and the three grow sites eradicated Tuesday.

“We served a search warrant in Milpitas and it is apparent that this is all tied together,” said DiBasilio.

The workers were living in a state of advanced degradation, with as many as eight beds crammed into a closet-sized room in one house and kitchen and hygiene facilities moved to the porches and an outside human waste facility. Every other square foot of the two residences through which media representatives were given tours was filled with marijuana processing racks and drying hangers.

The skunk-like scent of drying and processed product was apparent from the Hidden Valley Road gate, nearly 50 yards from the production area.

Drying and processing areas filled the structures and sheds scattered throughout the properties.

DiBasilio said the farms also violated a number of environmental protection rules and codes. There was a pile of household garbage 3- to 4-feet high that stretched more than 10 yards. A pile of empty pesticide containers nearly six feet high covered another large area.

Trees were felled in one grow area – on a slope greater than 30 degrees – and left to rot among graded areas used to grow cannabis. DiBasilio said the property owners had not applied for any grading permit.

DiBasilio said human waste and grey water were allowed to run out on the ground.

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