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Cops: Illegal pot is growing problem

By: Penne Usher Telegraph Correspondent
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The recent eradication of two illegal marijuana grows that yielded more than 45,000 marijuana plants in El Dorado County with an estimated street value of more than $83 million is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), whose primary function is to reduce the supply of marijuana by eradicating large marijuana crop sites, has seen a steady increase in the number of grows and the number of seizures. “We’re finding more (illegal) grows each year,” said Michelle Gregory, CAMP spokeswoman. “We’d like to think we are getting better at finding them or there could be more grows.” Locating the gardens, which are usually located in low-traffic and remote areas, takes time and resources. “Sometimes we use air reconnaissance, other times we survey by ground, it will vary,” Gregory said. “We try not to get up in the air too much — they can hear the helicopter.” She declined to elaborate on surveillance techniques, not wanting to tip off the growers. Gregory said the Mexican Nationals who tend the gardens, are merely hired hands. “A lot of times the gardens aren’t theirs. They are hired, or in some cases kidnapped from Mexico,” she said “They are told it’s their job to tend the grow and if they don’t their families are threatened.” The men who spend much of the 6-month growing period camped near the illegal gardens are armed and dangerous. “Our experience is that the majority have handguns and AK-47s seem to be popular” Gregory said. She warns those who accidentally stumble upon a potential grow to leave the area immediately. “People have been confronted in the past,” she said. “The Mexican Nationals are getting bolder.” Two recent marijuana growing operations located in the foothills appear to have been Mexican National gardens, located in areas known for such illegal activity, according to law enforcement officials. “Marijuana grows of this type are of always of great concern, not only for the safety of the community but the environment,” said Lt. Bryan Golmitz of the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. “Marijuana growers are very protective individuals and will protect their crops by dangerous means.” On June 20 narcotics detectives located and eradicated an outdoor marijuana grow in El Dorado Hills in an area off Salmon Falls Road that spanned more than a three-mile area. “We located about a mile of irrigation lines used to supply the plants with waster from remote watering sites,” Golmitz said. Approximately 32,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value in excess of $58 million were eradicated. No arrests have been made, but officials suspect Mexican Nationals, largely based on the size of the growing operation. On July 1 multiple law enforcement agencies located marijuana gardens in the Stumpy Meadows area off Wentworth Springs Road. More than 15,000 plants with an estimated street value of $25 million were found. “Evidence located in the gardens showed the suspects that were tending the gardens had been in the gardens as early as that morning, and in one garden, evidence showed the suspects had been armed,” Golmitz said. For the illegal immigrants growing and tending to the marijuana gardens, it’s just business. “These folks are also involved in weapons, cocaine and methamphetamine (trafficking),” Gregory said. “They’ll continue to come here and we’ll continue to try to push them out.” Penne Usher can be reached at penne.usher@gmail.com.