More than 1,000 pot plants seized in two Merced County raids

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comMarch 13, 2014 

— Merced County sheriff’s detectives said they raided two large marijuana growing operations Thursday in Merced County, eradicating more than 1,000 plants from homes converted into commercial operations.

Deputies collected more than 800 plants and 5 pounds of clipped pot buds from a home in the 19000 block of First Avenue in Stevinson, Deputy Ray Framstad said.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department found five large growing rooms inside the home, including one “large underground grow room,” and two more gardens outside the home with plants in the ground. Deputies described the marijuana as “lower quality,” and estimated the total street value of plants and buds seized at around $1.6 million.

Investigators seized three loaded firearms – two shotguns and a rifle – from the home, as well as a small “usable amount” of methamphetamine, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Deputies said they planned to seek criminal charges through the Merced County District Attorney’s Office of marijuana cultivation, utilities theft and resisting arrest against Amelia D. Torres, 35. Torres was arrested, but because of an undisclosed medical issue, it was unclear if she would be booked at the Merced County jail.

“She had a medical recommendation for 90 plants and was obviously over that limit,” Framstad said.

Merced County’s medical marijuana ordinance only allows 12 plants per parcel of land.

Earlier Thursday, deputies seized more than 200 marijuana plants and 15 pounds of buds from a home that was the scene of the largest pot bust of 2012, the Sheriff’s Department said.

“The property still belongs to the same owner,” Framstad said.

Deputies in September 2012 found more than 10,000 marijuana plants at 1303 Gurr Road, a 20-acre piece of land south of Atwater.

The property owner, Chris Bounlangsy, 46, could face possible criminal charges in connection with the operation found Thursday and steep fines if deputies find more than 12 pot plants on his property in the future, Framstad said.

Efforts to contact Bounlangsy for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Deputies said Bounlangsy was formally warned that, under the county’s medical marijuana ordinance, he could be fined $1,000 per plant for every plant above the 12-plant limit.

The Sheriff’s Department said that investigators on Thursday found two large homemade greenhouses outside the home with a total of 219 higher-quality plants inside, and an additional 15 pounds of trimmed buds hanging inside the house, with a total estimated street value of more than $700,000.

Deputies said they would seek cultivation charges against Saly Inthavon, 71; Konghom Sunee, 44, both of Las Vegas; and Samon Khonghom, 61, of Orange Grove. They declined to comment to the Merced Sun-Star on Thursday.

“They said it was all for personal use to make tea or that they gave it or donated it to friends,” Framstad said. “But they had two processing centers in the sheds and inside the house. You don’t see those with people growing for just personal use.”

Thursday’s raids were the latest in the Sheriff’s Department’s recent zero-tolerance campaign against suspected commercial marijuana producers. Deputies have investigated and raided numerous homes in recent months in Merced County, targeting any parcel of land with more than 12 plants.

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

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