500 pot plants seized from Los Banos home

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMarch 7, 2014 

Authorities seized more than 500 marijuana plants this week from a Los Banos home believed to be connected to a large drug trafficking enterprise.

“This was an organized, highly sophisticated operation,” Los Banos police Cmdr. Jason Hedden said. “Investigators found numerous ballast systems and indoor lights inside the home.”

No arrests were made Thursday when the Merced County Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force raided a home in the 700 block of Friguglietti Avenue, though multiple suspects are wanted in connection with the growing operation. Suspect descriptions were not available Friday.

“There was no one at the home when the search warrant was served,” Hedden said.

Agents seized about 520 marijuana plants and about 4 pounds of trimmed marijuana buds, with an estimated street value of about $1.7 million, Merced County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Framstad said.

“This is a neighborhood with a lot of young children, little kids that play in their yards,” Framstad said. “This grow created a significant danger in the neighborhood of potential robberies or violence.”

Framstad said the complicated electrical wiring involved a large amount of utility theft and created a serious fire hazard.

“All the electricity they pulled to operate the lights had melted underground electrical wires,” he said.

Framstad said the case was developed by the task force with Los Banos police Officer Marcelino Cortez as lead investigator, but said he could not elaborate on what initiated the case. Efforts to reach the task force directly were unsuccessful Friday.

The Los Banos Police Department and the Merced County Sheriff’s Department assisted with the raid.

“The message we’re trying to get out to the community is that we’re not after anybody’s medical marijuana, we’re after these large, dangerous criminal grows,” Framstad said. “Those are the grows that we see associated with home invasion robberies, murders and fires.”

The county’s most recent homicide was reported Feb. 26 in Stevinson, and investigators believe that case was related to marijuana cultivation and other drug sales.

“It’s important for people who are suspicious about a home they think is involved in drugs to call us up to make an anonymous tip,” Framstad said.

To make an anonymous tip call the Merced County Sheriff’s Department at (209) 385-7472.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar.com or (209) 385-2482.

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