Merced County Sheriffs Department detectives reported eradicating nearly 1,800 marijuana plants from four sites on Monday.
The largest site was found about 8 p.m. in the 2100 block of Vine Street in the Winton area. Detectives went to the home to serve a search warrant and discovered that it and an unattached garage had been turned into a large marijuana growing operation.
Detectives found 1,244 plants in various stages of growth and 4 pounds of marijuana, along with growing lamps and other equipment.
There were plastic coverings on the windows of the home, detectives said, and a bypass had been set up on the roof to steal electricity.
No one was at the home, detectives said, but that possible suspects have been identified in the Modesto area.
Detectives also visited two homes on Second Avenue in Stevinson, one in the 23000 block and one on the 19000 block, and a home in the 10000 block of Shaffer Road in Winton.
Detectives said that they found 310 high-grade marijuana plants at the home in the 23000 block.
Detectives said that the owner was renting the house and had no idea that it was being used to grow marijuana.
Detectives said each plant was capable of producing 6 to 8 ounces of marijuana, and the growers had been stealing electricity to power the operation.
Investigators said they found 72 plants at the grow site in the 19000 block of Second Avenue.
At the Shaffer Road site, detectives said that they found another marijuana growing operation inside a large outdoor shop, which consisted of 145 mature marijuana plants, growing lamps and other equipment related to pot production.
Detectives said the people responsible for the grow had set up an electrical bypass and diverted about $60,000 worth of electricity to the house over the past six to nine months.
Detectives said the homeowner, Maria Serrano, 56, said she had been renting the shop to someone. Detectives said she gave statements consistent with having knowledge of the operation.
Authorities said her case will be forwarded to the Merced County District Attorney for review.
Merced County has an ordinance that limits medical marijuana cultivation to 12 plants per parcel of land, regardless of the propertys size, indoor or outdoor garden, or the maturity of the plants.
Detectives said that more illegal marijuana growers are bypassing the electrical systems at homes in order to steal power for indoor operations, which are more difficult to detect.
Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.