General Crime

* Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies nearly 20,000 marijuana plants worth $30 million at Mount Madonna County Park

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Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies and state authorities today eradicated nearly 20,000 marijuana plants worth an estimated $30 million at four gardens tucked within Mount Madonna County Park. A team of 12 officers from the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting and five sheriff’s deputies conducted the operation from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The plants, were found using a helicopter at illegal grow sites in deep rural areas, two of which were located within the park and two on private land.

“This is relatively tough terrain,” Neil Cuthbert, a commander for the California Department of Justice, said. Because of the size of the sites, officers eradicated each garden one at a time, Cuthbert said. The plants were nearly 4 feet tall and none appeared to be mature, Cuthbert said. Sgt. Troy Smith, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said, in Santa Clara County, the procedure to dispose the plants is typically to bury them in an undisclosed landfill.

No weapons were found at any of the gardens, but some telltale signs of a grow operation included a long hose at one site and at another site, authorities stumbled upon a pan with food atop a portable stove and several cups of Top Ramen noodles, a jar of peanut butter, a bottle of oil,  plastic cups, dish soap, a box of large garbage bags, bags of raw potatoes, several pans and other canned foods.

No arrests were made. Asked why anyone would risk running such an operation, Cuthbert said the main motive is profit. “It is very profitable for them, that’s why they do it.” The plants have a street value of anywhere from $25 to $30 million, Smith said. He said detectives this year would begin to focus on investigating ties any suspects who are arrested might have to major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

The deputies who participated in today’s mission are part of a sheriff’s office marijuana eradication team, tasked with investigating the illegal cultivation and trafficking of marijuana in Santa Clara County. The team works in partnership with the California Department of Justice’s drug enforcement agency and the California Department of Fish and Game, which assists with the rehabilitation of the grow sites.

To find the illegal grow sites, deputies rely upon residents who leave tips on an anonymous sheriff’s tip line as well as by scouting areas of the county through the first half of the year. The marijuana cultivation season typically runs from June to October. Prior to today’s operation, authorities had seized more than 40,000 plants with a street value of more than $60 million. Eleven people have been arrested in connection with the illegal operations this year.

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