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Massive amount of marijuana unearthed in Atwater

Massive amount of marijuana unearthed in Atwater

Law enforcement agents found 47,800 marijuana plants in various stages of growth in an Atwater corn field.


POSTED September 3, 2010 10:23 p.m.

While investigating a possible methamphetamine lab and water theft, narcotics agents discovered a marijuana grow operation in Atwater that was one of the largest busts of the year, according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

Agents from the Merced/Mariposa High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force went to the 8000 block of Atwater Jordan Road in Atwater around 10 a.m. Aug. 28, after receiving a tip about the possible production of meth in the area, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

After conducting surveillance for a short time, agents made contact with Jose Lizarraga, 22, of Delhi and told him why they were there. Lizarraga agreed to let them look around and that’s when they found evidence of a marijuana grow operation inside one of the buildings next to the eight acre corn field, MacKenzie said.

Agents detained Lizarraga and obtained a search warrant for the property. They followed drip lines from the irrigation canal into the corn field where they located 47,800 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, MacKenzie said.

Agents were searching the corn field and Sgt. Rich Howard was watching the perimeter when a second suspect, Juvenal Sanchez, 36, of Salinas, came out of the corn field.

“After seeing Sgt. Howard he immediately ran back into the corn and failed to comply with his orders to stop,” MacKenzie said. “Instead a Pit Bull/Labrador mix came out of the field and charged Sgt. Howard, forcing him to shoot the dog who ran back into the field and died. “

Sanchez was taken into custody after the incident with the dog, MacKenzie said.

It took 25 officers from several law enforcement agencies approximately eight hours to harvest all the plants. The marijuana was planted in line with the corn so it could not be spotted from the air, in between the stalks.

The plants, ranging from starter plants of a few inches to ones several feet tall have an average street value of $1,000 a plant when harvested at maturity, MacKenzie said. That would make the street value of the grow around $478,000,000.

 Inside the out building agents found evidence of a makeshift camp where workers would stay while tending the garden. According to the suspects’ statements, the corn was “already there” when they planted the marijuana. They said they were leasing the property from an owner who is out of the area.

Both suspects remain in custody without bail on an immigration hold.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

 

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