Ceres Police used the element of surprise with flash grenades to sweep in and clear out a large-scale marijuana growing operation in the 1600 block of Richland Avenue Monday morning.
At 7 a.m. Ceres Police SWAT team members were assisted by the Stanislaus County Sheriff Department in serving a search warrant on the large landlocked parcel and found a large-scale outdoor marijuana growing operation. Police found six outbuildings all containing marijuana plants at various stages of growth. In addition to the plants, processed marijuana was located inside the main residence. Police said 1,421 plants and over 400 pounds of processed cannabis were seized.
The city leveled the greenhouses with two tractors.
A total of 12 persons were detained but most were laborers tending to plants. Arrested were Hector Vega Duarte, 45, and Luis Garibay, 25, both charged with illegal cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sales, conspiracy to commit a crime, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
The 10 others who were released were forthcoming about their roles on the farm.
“They get paid to go tend to marijuana fields wherever they might be,” said Sgt. Johnson. “They go from one grow to the next wherever there’s work. It appears they were allowed to stay there for the night; there were some makeshift beds and things of that nature.”
Ceres Police Detective Sgt. Trenton Johnson said the illegal marijuana farm was common knowledge among those who live on Zona Bella Drive whose two-story houses overlook the expansive lot.
“You can’t really hide an outdoor marijuana grow of that size,” commented Sgt. Johnson.
This was the second time the department shut down a marijuana operation on the property. In April 2015 police made a raid to remove about $1.5 million worth of marijuana which was discovered after someone was shot on the property.
Johnson warned the parties involved that if he sees a new operation arise he will “immediately take care of it.”
He said making this one especially dangerous is the presence of an illegal well drilled on the premises.
“With all those chemicals from the grow and all the fertilizers and everything, there’s a possibility that that could make it down into the groundwater via this illegal well that was wide open,” said Johnson.
It was the second time in weeks that Ceres acted on tips to stop cannabis grows. At the Sept. 23 council meeting a resident complained about the horrible odors that were emanating from the property at 917 N. Central Avenue and asked the city to do something.
“We’re all sick and tired of this overwhelming smell coming from this neighbor’s backyard,” said the resident of Chablis Way. “We are being held captive by one neighbor. They are dictating what we can and cannot do in our own homes … it is nauseating, it is disgusting.”
He said residents had to leave their homes to get away from the odor.
The resident at 917 N. Central Avenue complied with a cease and desist order, said Sgt. Johnson. Assisting with the delivery of the letter was the Sheriff’s Department, which is aggressively going after illegal cannabis operations.
“Apparently they complied with it,” said Johnson.
“There’s so many illegal grows going on all over the state but especially in our county, there’s no way that we can get to every one of them – write a search warrant and have the manpower to go there and eradicate it. So it’s kind of hit and miss which ones we can do in Ceres. We don’t have a lot of manpower to spare.”
The cease and desist is one solution to tending to smaller illegal operations.