Over $1 million in marijuana plants destroyed in Livingston

04/07/2014 9:06 PM

04/07/2014 11:21 PM

Investigators eradicated about 1,000 illegal marijuana plants over the weekend from a Livingston-area home, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Residents at a Longview Avenue house had been stealing thousands of dollars in utilities from Pacific Gas and Electric, Deputy Ray Framstad said.

No arrests were made and deputies were still looking for the growers Monday.

Sheriff’s detectives, led by Deputy Mark Taylor, raided the rural home Sunday afternoon. The home, which was rented, had been converted into an illegal garden and indoor greenhouse, deputies said.

“They damaged the entire residence,” Framstad said. “Oftentimes these growers victimize the homeowner using false identities or pay others to obtain a lease fraudulently, then essentially destroy or ruin the place turning it into a grow house. That’s what was going on here.”

Framstad described the growing operation as “sophisticated.”

Deputies seized more than 700 plants in the backyard of the home and roughly 300 plants inside the home. Investigators found about 3 pounds of trimmed marijuana plants drying in a nearby shed and 6 pounds in clipped marijuana buds that were being packaged for sale, the Sheriff’s Department reported.

Deputies estimated the total street value of the marijuana seized at “well over” $1 million.

Growers converted three bedrooms and a back porch into grow rooms that bypassed electrical meters, rewiring the home to avoid detection by utilities officials. Deputies found numerous fertilizer and chemical containers strewn around the complicated network of electrical cords running through the house, which Framstad said created fire and environmental hazards.

Investigators said Sunday’s raid targeted a commercial growing operation and that there was no evidence that any of the marijuana grown at the site was for medicinal purposes.

Sunday’s effort was the latest in the department’s crackdown on commercial growers in Merced County. The “zero tolerance” approach comes on the heels of a medical marijuana ordinance passed last year by the Board of Supervisors that allows medicinal users to grow up to 12 plants per parcel of property.

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