MERCED — The last 24 hours have been nothing short of hectic and turbulent for the narcotics agents spearheading the Operation Mercury drug raids in Merced County.
Four more search warrants were served Wednesday morning, all stemming from Tuesday's pot bust in the 500 block of South Buhach Road.
Merced County Sheriff's Department SWAT officers served a search warrant at Hailey Road and Walnut Avenue in Atwater, where they found 100 marijuana plants and 35 pounds of processed marijuana.
Three men were taken into custody in connection with the raid: Luis Perez, 35, Victor Gonzalez, 36, and Sergio Zamora, 43. Authorities said they are questioning Zamora about all the growing operations.
The Merced police SWAT team served three search warrants in Merced: in the 800 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Way, the 600 block of Trudy Way and the 1200 block of Second Street. Nothing was found at the Martin Luther King Jr. Way property. Agents seized a small amount of cash and marijuana at the Trudy Way house.
Officials arrested Edgar Hernandez, 24, and seized 12 marijuana plants and 5 pounds of processed marijuana at the Second Street site.
The multiple search warrants resulted in agents working around the clock, but Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said it needed to be done.
"We finally had to put a stop to all these illegal marijuana grows here in Merced County and actually the entire Central Valley," said Pazin. "What happened over the last 24 hours has been just breath-taking in its depth and scope as it relates to the number of illegal marijuana grows here in Merced County."
Their exhaustive efforts paid off Wednesday morning, when Pazin said they finally captured a key member of the cartel running the marijuana-growing operations in Merced.
"We were able to basically track down, about 1 this morning, the main culprit in what we believe is a major drug trafficking organization," said Pazin of Wednesday's raids.
The Sheriff's Department said all four additional search warrants were spin-offs from the Buhach Road raid Tuesday, at which they seized 200 marijuana plants, 300 pounds of dried marijuana and packaging material.
Agents recovered a stolen .45-caliber handgun at the Buhach Road site, which Pazin said proves that the drug cartels operate purely for profit -- not for medical purposes.
"It has nothing to do with helping persons that are afflicted with severe medical issues," Pazin said. "It has everything to do with greed and avarice. It's perpetrated by organized drug cartels, drug trafficking organizations."
Although the last 24 hours have been exhausting for officials, the Sheriff's Department said Operation Mercury is far from finished and will continue to pursue tips from the public.
"We're in it to win it," said Pazin. "We're working closely with our federal law enforcement partners, and we need to eradicate this junk that absolutely has no medicinal value."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.