Indoor pot farms sprout in suburbs

first_imgThe house is rewired to steal electricity. Instead of furniture, clothing or even residents, the home is packed with lights, pumps, filters and timers. The windows are often covered and blinds drawn. While people are seen coming and going, they never seem to stay. Law enforcement say these are just a few signs that a house is being used as an indoor pot farm. Around the country, investigators are increasingly seeing suburban homes in middle-class and well-to-do neighborhoods turned into indoor marijuana farms. Typically investigators find an empty home, save a mattress, a couple of chairs, some snacks in the fridge and an elaborate setup of soil-free growing trays. Within the past week, detectives found marijuana plants being grown in houses in Diamond Bar and Chino Hills. The Diamond Bar busts turned up large-scale indoor pot farms. The houses contained equipment to grow marijuana and were re-wired to steal electricity. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s narcotics detectives on Wednesday found 1,868 marijuana plants in a house on Crooked Arrow Drive that could have yielded a crop worth $10 million on the street. Neighbors heard construction work at the house shortly after it was sold but they saw no one move in furniture. Detectives confiscated more than 2,000 marijuana plants from a two-story house on Eldertree Drive on March 21. On Wednesday, a task force seized 254 marijuana plants and growing materials valued at about $2 million from a house on Country Club Drive in Chino Hills. Grow houses have been a problem for years in California and Canada, but investigators are now seeing scores of them in the South and New England. In the past six weeks alone, more than 70 have been uncovered in northern Georgia – nearly 10 times last year’s total for the entire state. Only one was busted in 2005. Indoor pot farms also have been discovered in recent months in residential areas of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina and Florida. “They can go in and basically fly under the radar,” said Ruth Porter-Whipple, spokeswoman for the Atlanta field division of the Drug Enforcement Agency. “These aren’t neighborhoods where they would stand out.” In Georgia, the latest busts averaged about 200 plants per house. With each plant yielding $4,000 on average per harvest, that works out to about $3.2 million per year, considering the plants can be harvested every three months. The DEA said more than 400,000 plants with a potential annual value of $6.4 billion were seized from grow houses in the United States last year – up from about 270,000 the year before. That is less than 10 percent of the marijuana plant seizures in the U.S.; most pot is grown outdoors on farms and in ditches, back yards and gardens. Grow houses typically grow marijuana hydroponically – that is, using a nutrient solution instead of soil. They also use 24-hour-a-day lighting to produce plants more rapidly. The marijuana is usually cut, dried and packaged on the premises. Typically, the windows are covered up, and the electrical system is rigged to hide how much juice is being used. Nearly all of the grow houses busted in Georgia were connected, police say. Investigators employed tips, surveillance and information from the power company on electricity usage to find the indoor marijuana farm houses and other operations. It was a string of electrical fires that led New Hampshire authorities to more than dozen grow houses in December. In another elaborate scheme, more than 50 houses with thousands of plants recently found in Florida were traced to marijuana financiers in New Jersey who offered “relocation packages,” with 100 percent financing for the homes. Buyers would agree to operate a grow house for two years, after which they could sell the house and split the profits with their backers, or keep growing pot. The big advantage of such operations is the privacy that comes with being in a community full of people so busy working and raising their families that they don’t know the neighbors well and pay little attention to what is going on next door. Authorities said Diamond Bar residents reported an unusual lack of activity at the house since it was sold in October. Neighbors reported hearing construction work at the house after it was purchased, but no one ever moved any furniture or clothing inside. Los Angeles County sheriff’s narcotics Lt. James Whitten said he is not aware of a connection between the recent busts in the area. He did say, however, that similar grow houses are becoming a trend. In the past, authorities would find indoor marijuana farms with only one or two rooms in a house being used for growth. But now, they are finding whole houses dedicated to the operation, Whitten said. Staff Writer Ruby Gonzales contributed to this Associated Press story.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more