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Massive pot bust in Stevinson

POSTED July 9, 2010 10:48 p.m.

The season of marijuana eradication started with a boost when agents from the Merced/Mariposa High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force uprooted more than 9,000 plants off of an island in the San Joaquin River near the Stevinson area.

The grow operation was raided early in the morning on July 3 by the task force and deputies from the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

The agents found 9,353 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, which took 13 agents eight hours to eradicate, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

The total street value of the marijuana is conservatively estimated at $1,000 per plant, which would be $9,353,000 total for the entire grow, MacKenzie said.

The agents had to access the grow site by boat because it was located on an island on the other side of a tributary of the San Joaquin River. Once they started in, an accompanying helicopter reported three to four suspects taking off across the countryside on foot before the agents could get into position. After the agents crossed the river, they found a makeshift camp where the tenders were staying while maintaining the grow, MacKenzie said.

Investigators believe the marijuana garden may be tied to an organized crime syndicate out of Mexico.

“This is the beginning of ‘grow’ season for marijuana and agents plan on eradicating more gardens throughout the summer,” MacKenzie said.

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