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Suspects searching for marijuana rob Hilmar couple

Robbery marks third home invasion in Hilmar this year

POSTED October 30, 2012 9:57 p.m.

A Hilmar couple were tied up Monday night and had their house ransacked by suspects searching for their supply of medical marijuana — a supply that had been seized weeks earlier by a narcotics task force, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

The 70-year-old man and woman were not injured during the home invasion robbery, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

The incident marks the third home invasion robbery connected to medical marijuana in Hilmar this year.

The robbery began shortly after 7 p.m. when a white four-door vehicle pulled up to the front of the couple’s residence in the 21000 block of Bloss Avenue.

The man and woman were outdoors feeding their livestock when they were approached by a Hispanic man in his early 20s, wearing a white T-shirt, a black baseball cap and what appeared to be a black police tactical vest with a small gold star badge on it, MacKenzie said.

“The suspect said he was with the police and was there to confiscate his drugs,” MacKenzie said.

The male victim told the suspect a narcotics task force had been at the house a few weeks prior and confiscated all the marijuana.

The suspect didn’t believe the man and pulled out a handgun. He grabbed the victim and ordered him into the house, where he was placed on the floor and had his hands tied. A few minutes later the other suspects brought his wife into the house from the backyard and forced her to lie next to her husband.

“They kept asking where the drugs and money were and the victims kept telling them the police had already been there and they didn’t have any,” MacKenzie said.

The suspects ransacked the house and took an undisclosed amount of money, some personal effects and the victim’s truck, a white 2000 Toyota Tacoma with the license plate number 7H64575.

“The suspects told them to stay on the floor or they would be shot,” MacKenzie said.

There were three to five suspects, but the couple only got a good look at the one, MacKenzie said.

The Bloss Avenue house was the site of a raid by the Merced Multi Agency Narcotics Task Force on Oct. 4.

The task force found an estimated 150 marijuana plants approximately 14 feet tall growing in the backyard and 100 pounds of finished product.

According to the sheriff’s department, the house was being used as a processing center for the marijuana. There was a mattress in one bedroom and the other bedroom was being used as a drying room. A tent had been set up in the backyard, which was used as a drying area for the marijuana.

Taken into custody during the raid were Luis Viera, 47, and Jesus Vasquez, 38, both of Hilmar.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that Monday night’s home invasion robbery could be connected to two other home invasion robberies in Hilmar involving medical marijuana and one of which resulted in a fatality.

In April 70-year-old Roberto Solorio was fatally shot inside his home in the 10000 block of Tegner Avenue in Hilmar by two armed men. Sheriff’s investigators suspect the men targeted the home because someone connected to the residence had been growing marijuana purportedly for medicinal use.

The second incident occurred Aug. 23, in the 23000 block of American Avenue, in which a man was robbed of his marijuana plants by four men posing as agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

According to the victim’s statement to sheriff investigators, four men in two vehicles showed up at the property and claimed to be DEA agents. The men said they were there to check his marijuana grow to ensure he was in compliance with the medical marijuana guidelines.

The victim, a middle-aged man, took the four men into his grow, at which time they produced a handgun and a pair of handcuffs.

The suspects handcuffed the victim and then proceeded to harvest his 20 mature marijuana plants and put them into their vehicles.

One of the suspects went into the residence and took a handgun, MacKenzie said.

After harvesting the plants, the suspects uncuffed the victim. One suspect pointed a handgun at him and told him not to tell anyone or they would be back.

The suspects were wearing shorts and T-shirts and had nothing on them that identified them as law enforcement. The two vehicles were described as a black Envoy and a green Toyota pickup.

Both cases remain open.

Anyone with information about any of the cases is asked to call the Merced County Sheriff’s Department at 385-7472.

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