A tip from a utility crew led Modesto police to a $1 million marijuana growing operation Monday in a home owned by the city in the Dry Creek river plain.
The city leases the house to a man through Wolverine Property Management, which has overseen five homes located within city parks since 2005.
Modesto is reviewing its relationship with the company. Its contract with the city calls on Wolverine Property Management to conduct site visits.
"We're certainly going to have a conversation with the company," Parks Director Julie Hannon said.
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Police arrested four men on suspicion of cultivating marijuana at the property, a large white farmhouse near the El Vista bridge. Officers are looking for a fifth man in connection with the bust.
The house drew the attention of authorities because it was using an excessive amount of power, according to a Modesto Irrigation District crew that was investigating the repeated failure of a transformer near El Vista Avenue and Scenic Drive.
Officers smelled a strong marijuana odor when they spoke with three men in front of the home, police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said. Two more men were inside, one of whom fled and is being sought.
Police found 560 marijuana plants and a "sophisticated" growing operation hooked up throughout the home. Police estimated its value at $1 million.
Officers also seized two trucks, a ski boat, two jet skis and $4,000 during the investigation.
The four men arrested were Cesar Sanchez, 24, of Chehalis, Wash.; Carlos Torres, 24, of Los Angeles; Pablo Zamora, 45, of Modesto; and Mauricio Zamora, 21, of Modesto. All were booked on suspicion of growing marijuana, and their immigration status is being reviewed.
A fifth man, Valdemar Zamora, 31, of Ceres is wanted by investigators in relation to the case. More arrests could be forthcoming.
The investigation led police to another 400 pot plants at a home in the 2200 block of Golfito Way in La Grange. That property is associated with Valdemar Zamora.
None of the suspects who were arrested are on the property's lease. The city was collecting $1,150 a month for the house in Dry Creek, 8 percent of which goes to the property management company. The lease specifically bars drug use.
"We're just disappointed that this property has been used for this purpose," Hannon said.
Second operation found
In an unrelated case, a Modesto man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of growing marijuana after 18 pot plants were discovered by firefighters trying to put out a blaze in the detached garage he was renting.
Michael Allen Kendrick, 43, was charged with cultivation of marijuana, a felony, Findlen said.
Firefighters were called to a house in the 100 block of College Avenue after there were reports of smoke coming from the property.
There were rooms inside the garage partitioned off by plywood planks, with the windows boarded up tightly. Firefighters created ventilation through the roof and were able to put out the fire in about 15 minutes, according to Battalion Chief Dan Hinshaw.
They called police after they stumbled upon the marijuana plants, some as high as 5 feet, and other growing equipment.
Kendrick was the only occupant of the structure, Hinshaw said.
He said the fire started when Kendrick was spray-painting inside and a heater that was running ignited the fumes, which ignited some of the contents inside.
Investigators ask anyone with information about Valdemar Zamora's whereabouts to call the Modesto Police Department or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers by sending a text message to 274637. Just type "TIP704" and a message.
Bee Online Editor Brian Clark contributed to this report.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.