Five Turlock residents were taken into custody by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department on allegations they were behind a large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation operation.
The investigation into the operation began last year after the sheriff's department starting receiving multiple tips about cultivation of marijuana plants in various rural areas of the county that far exceeded the legal limit.
Through further investigation, detectives with the sheriff's department's Special Investigations Unit learned multiple properties containing large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation operations were owned and/or operated by the same group of suspects.
SIU detectives served search warrants at 20 locations throughout Stanislaus and Merced counties. These search warrants resulted in the following seizures: 75,660 marijuana plants, 19,852.5 pounds of processed marijuana, seven firearms, 18 liters of illegal toxic chemicals, 10 vehicles, $151,057 in cash and 36 total arrests, according to the sheriff's department.
"SIU detectives believed this was an elaborate, multi-million-dollar marijuana cultivation, transportation and sales operation," said sheriff's department spokesman Sgt. Luke Schwartz.
Five Turlock residents were determined to be the primary leaders of the operation. On Feb. 8, four brothers who owned the majority of the properties, identified as Kulbir Sandhu, 41, Balwinder Sandhu, 45, Bhupinder Sandhu, 42, and Gurinder Sandhu, 39, were safely taken into custody during the service of a search warrant.
Specific charges included the following felonies: maintaining a place for unlawfully selling a controlled substance; possession of cannabis for the purpose of sales; cultivation of cannabis; and criminal conspiracy charges.
Cristian Ayala-Farias, 24, also is wanted for several related charges. He remains outstanding and whereabouts are still unknown.
"Investigators found many of these properties had illegal firearms, dangerous illegal chemicals, which are toxic to the environment and its water supply, as well as abhorrent living conditions for the workers tending to the grow sites," Schwartz said. "These cultivation sites also had a major effect on the surrounding communities with heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic, dangerous armed suspects in the neighborhood, and the strong, far-reaching odor of marijuana."
The sheriff's department said follow-up is still being conducted in this investigation, and additional suspects will be arrested as they are identified.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office will ultimately review their cases for filing and issuance.