$1 Billion Marijuana Grow Busted in Sierra Mountains - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

$1 Billion Marijuana Grow Busted in Sierra Mountains


By: Ashley Ritchie

Fresno County, CA- It's what's being called the biggest marijuana bust in the history of Fresno County, and officials say it was set up by a Mexican drug cartel.

Sierra Two Black Hawk helicopters hovered over the Sierras Wednesday, lowering law enforcement into the largest marijuana grow seen in the Valley in decades.

"You do the math, 4,000 plants times $4,000 each, we were standing in a money garden for these traffickers," Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said.

The operation was a part of a multi-agency crackdown, that has netted more than $1 billion worth of marijuana, nearly 300,000 plants, numerous weapons and ended with the arrest of 80 people.

"We have confirmation that the people involved in growing this marijuana on our public land are involved in Mexican drug cartels. They come here, they go onto our public lands, grow the marijuana, actually live in the garden," Mims said.

The operation included over 300 personnel from 17 local, state and federal agencies who came to the Valley to take part in "Operation Save our Sierra", which began several months ago.

Operation SOS is a yearly operation which works to eradicate marijuana. Officials say what stood out about this year is the collaborative and focused effort to conduct prevention and education efforts, collect evidence and criminal intelligence, eradicate targeted marijuana grow sites and clean up and reclaim public lands damaged by drug trafficking organizations.

Aside from the marijuana, officials found tents and sleeping bags; evidence of a full-scale operation.

"We are shooting for 100% eradication of the gardens on public lands," Mims said.

Director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, also hiked into the massive grow Wednesday and commended those giving up their time to clean it up.

"I know how hard it is just carrying a water bottle hiking through those woods, I can't imagine for all of those great volunteers who are carrying out 50 and 60 and 70 pounds essentially garbage, hazardous chemicals, etcetera to bring that beautiful country back to the people that truly do own it, the American people," Kerlikowske said.

If the suspects are prosecuted here, they'll do their time locally. But if there's no prosecution and they're here illegally, the suspects will be deported.

Charges range from conspiracy to possess and distribute marijuana, possession and distribution of marijuana and depredation to public lands.

All of those charges carry prison time.

The support from the different agencies in this operation was provided free of charge to Fresno County.

This isn't the first time the Valley has had a drug bust on this scale; last August officials chopped down more than 400,000 marijuana plants growing in Sugar Loaf, deep inside the Sequoia National Forest. That marijuana was reported to be worth around $1.6 billion dollars.



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