Local law enforcement identified and eradicated what they are calling a “massive” marijuana grow operation west of Independence this week, arresting eight individuals believed to be associated with the operation.
Agents with the Inyo Narcotics Enforcement Team and U.S. Forest Service have been investigating the grow site and gathering evidence since May of this year, and moved on the site Thursday, Aug. 22.
According to Inyo County Sheriff’s Public Information Officer Carma Roper, the multi-agency strike team removed about 4,000 marijuana plants from the site, as well as 350 pounds of processed marijuana that was ready for transport and sale.
The estimated street value for the processed marijuana could be at least $1 million, according to calculations available on priceofweed.com.
One arrest was made during Thursday’s initial operation, 23-year-old Jose Salvador Garcia-Rodrigiuez of Lake Elsinore.
Early Friday morning, INET and Forest Service officers conducted a felony traffic stop south of Sage Flat Road on U.S. 395 in Olancha and seven more individuals were arrested, “all with ties to the Hogback cultivation site,” Roper said.
Those arrests include: German Ortiz Guzman, 22, of Bakersfield; Antonio Suastegui, 34, of Bakersfield; 44-year-old Lorenzo Perez-Meza, 44, of Bakersfield; Refugio Guzman, 49, of Bakersfield; 25-year-old Javier Morales, 25, of Homeland; Jesus Solis Jr., 19, of Garden Grove; and Isaac Duran-Solis, 41, of Bakersfield.
All who were arrested are being held at the Inyo County Jail on charges of marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for the purpose of sales and conspiracy.
“Marijuana cultivation causes extreme damage to ecosystems,” Roper said. “As part of the illegal cultivation process, growers are responsible for using miles of plastic tubing and diverting water from natural sources for crop irrigation. The use of banned herbicides and pesticides is also common practice.”
Roper added that “massive” amounts of trash and chemicals were transported from the Hogback cultivation site following the eradication efforts this week. She said that at least 2,000 pounds of garbage was removed from the site,
“In addition, officers located banned hazardous materials which required the response of a Hazmat professional,” she said.
Assisting in the eradication operation were Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bishop Police Department, California Highway Patrol and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Roper said that the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, as well as all agencies assisting in the eradication operation, want to remind residents and visitors of the dangers that are inherent in marijuana cultivation. “As soon as you become aware that you have come upon a cultivation site, leave immediately,” Roper said. “Do not attempt to engage with the growers. Once in a safe place, report details about the location to law enforcement.”