When law enforcement seized an estimated $29 million of marijuana from an illegal farm in the Glass Mountains earlier this month, an unknown number of suspects got away; but there was one arrest. When the suspect was first arrested, he was listed as a juvenile so his name was not released to the media.
With further investigations, it turns out that the suspect was in fact over 18. Mono County Assistant District Attorney Tim Kendall reports that the suspect is 18 year old Alejandro Villa. Villa gave a false date of birth and was taken to juvenile hall, but Kendall said that the young man was not a legal resident of the United States and had been deported in 2005. Finger print records from that original deportation led investigators to believe that Villa was actually over 18.
Villa has been charged with marijuana cultivation, and possession of a fire arm in the commission of a felony. Villa was also charged with possession of stolen property, in this case the firearm.
As a result of the raid on the farm, agents with Mono County, Inyo County, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Narcotics destroyed 4600 mature plants. Some plants were said to be over ten feet tall and able to yield over a pound of Marijuana per plant. The estimated street value was listed at $29 million.
As large and potentially lucrative as this farm may be, it is not unique. Illegal marijuana farms on public lands are a huge problem for land managers across the state. Last year in Inyo County, raids along the east slope of the Sierra between Lone Pine and Independence uncovered close to 30,000 plants. Law enforcement officers say that these large grows on public lands often involve drug cartels form Mexico.
Assistant DA Kendall explained that typically the big wigs hire illegal residents and pay them well for the work. If a farmer gets caught, the cartel will take care of the suspects family while the farmer does time. If the farmer talks, the family could be harmed, Kendall says.
Law enforcement does find and eradicate farms every year. It is also not uncommon for law enforcement to find several grows a year that have already been harvested, according to Kendall.