The Tulare County Sheriff's Marijuana Suppression Program, which includes staff from the Sheriff's Tactical Enforcement Personnel Unit, have been working diligently on one particular case that has led to numerous search warrants, arrests and eradication of plants being cultivated under the guise of "medicinal marijuana".
There has been a rise in marijuana cultivation on the valley floor and a noticeable drop in cultivation in the hills and mountainous areas. When asked why the grow sites have moved to the valley floor, the team sited the loosely written law, the ease of cultivation under the guise of medicinal marijuana, and available water sources in the valley.
"We have been witnessing more and more abuse of the California medicinal marijuana laws. These groups are hiding behind the loosely written rules and have brought these gardens into communities and back yards without regard for public welfare and safety."
Grow sites in back yards or within agricultural crops are not new to the Suppression Team, but the scale of the grow sites and the loopholes these drug cartels are using with "recommends" are on the rise. The Marijuana Suppression Team has begun to track grow sites and medical recommends being used within the county.
"This case alone has used medical recommends for at least two individuals at multiple sites." stated the case lead detective and STEP team member Mike Yandell. "Some of the people who have recommends posted at these sites, don't even use marijuana or have any idea where the marijuana is being grown. They were just paid to get the recommend and have no further involvement."
The people who are getting paid for their recommends can be charged with felony conspiracy and cultivation, regardless of their further involvement. The Sheriff's Office is warning people to stay away from this type of scam.
"If you are approached by someone who would like you to lie to a Doctor who is willing to provide you with a recommend, then pay you for your paperwork, you need to walk away and report the information to your local law enforcement agency. " Advises Sgt. Jim Franks.
Following the paper trail of recommends found at the grow sites has led to multiple arrests and other grow sites allowing the detectives to connect cases. In the past week, what started as one grow site in Plainview, has grown in to the eradication of multiple grow sites, numerous search warrants and arrests on over a 7.5 million dollar operation. Of the evidence and items seized were at least three vehicles, weapons including illegal assault rifles, over $56,000 in US currency, marijuana pay/owes, packaging materials and evidence showing the marijuana was for sale and not for medical use. The team also eradicated over 2,500 plants and arrested the following individuals in connection with this case:
8-8-2011: all arrested for cultivation, possession and conspiracy
Alexander Hernandez, age 20 of Farmersville
Adrian Hernandez, age 20 of Strathmore
Francisco Sanchez, age 87 of Farmersville
8-11-11: all arrested for cultivation and conspiracy
Jesus Manuel Hernandez, age 29 of Visalia
Salvador Alvarez, age 49 of Farmersville
Martha Castaneda, age 50 of Farmersville
08-15-11: arrested for cultivation and conspiracy
Guadalupe Gutierrez, age 18 of Farmersville
8-17-11: arrested for possession of an assault rifle and obliterating the ID of a firearm
Antonio Gutierrez, age 48 of Farmersville
The Tulare County Sheriff's Office has also looked to the assistance of other county entities to join the marijuana suppression efforts.
Animal control was notified of the continuous animal health issues that are observed at grow sites. Dogs are often located at grow sites as they can alert the cultivators of someone's approach or deter intruders. Most of the animals located are malnourished, unhealthy and living in very poor conditions.
The Agricultural Commissioner’s Office along with Environmental Control was advised due to the number of grow sites being located on agriculture zoned property and the pesticides and chemicals being located. Currently the Tulare County Ordinance states the medicinal marijuana can only be grown in commercial zones, not agricultural or residential areas. Also, no pesticides or chemicals have been authorized for use on medicinal marijuana.
Code Complaisance has been called in on occasion due to the types of fencing and structures being built at grow sites. The county ordinance calls for medicinal marijuana to be grown indoors with proper ventilation etc.
Child Protective Services has also been put on alert as there have been occasions where children were present at grow sites or homes that are served with search warrants or parents being arrested.
The Sheriff's Office encourages anyone who has information that can help eradicate this type of criminal activity from our county, to please contact your local law enforcement agency. If you have information regarding non-emergency illegal activity in the county area, you may call or text that information to 559-725-4194 or email firstname.lastname@example.org . Your information is sent anonymously to the Sheriff's Office for processing.
Photos from scenes under Case #11-60883 are on the "Tulare County Sheriff" Flikr page at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tularecountysheriff/sets/
Five Videos are available under Case #11-60883 on the "Tulare County Sheriff" YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/TulareCountySheriff
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