Local marijuana operation gone to pot
CLOSE TO 1,500 MARIJUANA PLANTS FOUND WORTH ESTIMATED $3.6 MILLION
By Patrick Yost
Late in July a pair of Department of Natural Resource (DNR) officers conducting a “normal patrol” deep in a patch of woods off Little Indian River Road outside of Godfrey made a discovery that was anything but normal.
Tucked into hand–cleared patches of hardwoods and pine trees were four thriving marijuana grow operations.
The officers eased out. Quietly.
There is a reason. When members of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force and the DNR entered the fields last Thursday for an eradication effort, they found approximately 1,440 marijuana plants worth an estimated $3.6 million.
At first glance, the conservation officers knew they had walked up on a grow operation that is quickly permeating southern, specifically Georgia, forests. And where there’s money and product “officer safety is our number one issue,” a conservation officer who declined to be identified said. “You could have people out there protecting their crop.”
Since the initial discovery, Kenny Stewart, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office investigator, said law enforcement officers had placed the area under survelliance, hoping to arrest suspects in the grow fields.
No arrests were made but the fields were destroyed in what Stewart said was the largest marijuana growing operation ever discovered in Morgan County. The fields were approximately 13 miles south of Madison. By 8:30 p.m. the team of officers had pulled the plants, some as tall as eight feet, loaded them onto a gas–powered mule and hauled them back to the Morgan County Detention Center.
GBI agents on Friday said the operation was similar to recent discoveries in Warren, Twiggs and Taliafero counties.
Hidden under the canopy was a small tent surrounded with unopened, and often expanded, cans of food, hot sauce, a loaf of white bread and dried meat. Large water jugs were strewn around the area, along with fertilizer, pesticide sprayers and assorted garden tools. GBI agents contend the operation is part of a greater criminal conspiracy. “We think it’s going to be part of a larger organization,” he said.
Stewart said information gathered from the investigation leads officers to believe that the grow operation is part of an international conspiracy. “It’s safe to say it’s Mexican nationals,” he said.
GBI agents contend that increased border interdiction has created a financial opportunity for marijuana producers to grow the product in the United States. Officers contend that two suspects have been working the fields, living in extremely rudimentary conditions, for the past three months. With rain, they said, the fields would have been ready to harvest in approximately two weeks. A Georgia State Patrol helicopter, as part of the Governor’s Task Force to Eradicate Marijuana program, fled the site Thursday to search for more fields. None were found.
Officers also found a box of .380 bullets and an empty ammunition clip at the site. The discovery was made by a conservation officer.