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Raiders Bust Pot Farm

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Posted: Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:00 am

Sheriff’s deputies and federal officials arrested one man, seized a weapon and destroyed some 1,100 mature marijuana plants in a raid on a pot plantation in a canyon below Running Springs last Thursday morning.

Deputies from the sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Team, working with the sheriff’s aviation division and officials from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Forest Service, entered a canyon approximately one mile below Smiley Park at 5 a.m. to investigate a pot grove they had discovered four weeks earlier, authorities said.

Officials did not disclose how they learned of the site, though marijuana farms in the past have been spotted by sheriff’s helicopter pilots on patrol.

The investigators walked into the appproximately 10-acre cultivation site and located one suspect, who was arrested without incident. A loaded 9mm semi-automatic handgun was reportedly found at the campsite, along with camping supplies, sleeping bags and food.

A second man was spotted, but he ran off when he saw investigators, disappearing into a dense part of the forest.

Investigators lost sight of the second suspect and were unable to locate him, according to a sheriff’s press release issued Aug. 17.

The arrestee, identified as Jose Antonio Mendez, 29, was booked at Central Detention Center. According to jail records, he was later transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s office in Los Angeles, facing federal charges for cultivation of marijuana and possession of a firearm.

In this instance, a sheriff’s official said, marijuana cultivation is a federal offense because it occurred in a national forest.

Approximately 1,100 marijuana plants, six to seven feet tall, were uprooted and later destroyed. The sheriff’s release said all the plants were “in the budding stage,” meaning they were ready for harvesting. A sheriff’s spokesperson said officials believe the marijuana plants had been planted in approximately April.

Water to irrigate the grow site was supplied through tubing, routed about a mile from a creek below Smiley Park, investigators said. To clear space for the pot plants, the suspects cut and removed natural vegetation.

A sheriff’s narcotics spokesman said damage to the environment that results from large-scale marijuana-growing sites is a major concern.

“Lots of trash is usually found at these sites,” said sheriff’s Public Information Officer Jodi Miller. “Everything they’ve had and used is left behind—fertilizer containers, food wrappings, human waste. The list goes on and on of the things they’re leaving in the environment.”

The raid was the third major marijuana eradication reported in the San Bernardino Mountains this month. The Aug. 9 issue of this newspaper described how marijuana at a pair of plantations—one below Panorama Point below Crestline and the other off Highway 330 below Running Springs—had been wiped out a few days earlier.

More than 11,000 mature plants were destroyed in those two eradication efforts, officials reported.

Raids on marijuana-growing areas normally intensify at this time of the year because pot plants reach harvesting stage in the late summer or early fall.

Investigation into the Smiley Park site is continuing, sheriff’s officials said, and anyone with information about it is asked to call the Sheriff’s Narcotics Division at (909) 890-4840. Anonymous tips can be phoned to the WeTip hotline, (800) 782-7463.

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