Over the past 10 days Detectives from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department S.T.E.P. Unit completed several months of investigations by conducting marijuana grow site raid/eradication operations on public and private lands throughout the mountainous areas of Tulare County. These operations were conducted with the assistance of Federal Officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s C.E.R.T. program (Cannabis Eradication & Reclamation Teams). The C.E.R.T. program has replaced the state run C.A.M.P. program.
Officers raided (11) marijuana gardens over the (10) day period. Four suspects were apprehended in various grow sites during raids. Additional suspects fled into the thick underbrush and steep terrain and have not been apprehended. Approximately 106,529 live marijuana plants were seized during these operations. If allowed to fully mature each of these plants would yield in excess of one pound of usable marijuana bud with a street value over $3,000 per pound. The total combined monetary value of these grows would be over $319,587,000.
In addition to the marijuana plants seized, detectives also seized several firearms, ammunition for various pistols, rifles and shotguns and multiple pounds of fertilizer, pesticides and rat poison. Carcasses of various animals were discovered in several of the grow sites, including one of an endangered Ring-Tailed Cat and evidence of a bear cub being shot by growers on U.S. Forest lands.
Detectives and Federal Officers removed trash, water hose, pesticides and fertilizers from the public land gardens and restored, as much of the natural streams and creeks which had been diverted by growers as possible (a process known as reclamation.) Additional work will be done on these areas to restore them to their natural state after the marijuana season, to lessen the danger to workers on those projects.
Refer to below for individual garden sites
Crawford Creek - Western Divide highway near Walk of 100 Giants. TCSO Case # 12-60776
S1: Isain Cruz Mercado, age 24 of Mexico – Charged with 11358 and 11359 H&S, ICE hold
S2: Hugo Alberto Flores Torres, age 28 of Mexico - Charged with 11358 and 11359 H&S, ICE hold
Deputies contacted and arrested the above listed suspects who had been living in a marijuana grow in the area of the “Walk of 100 Giants” in the Sequoia National Monument on the Great Western Divide Highway. Subsequent investigation eradicated 4541 marijuana plants from this site. This site is scheduled for later reclamation.
Backbone Creek 1, 2 & 3 Blue Ridge near Springville TCSO Case # 12-60745
Benito Baldovinos Mendoza, unk age of Mexico ICE hold Charged with 11358 and 11359
Jesus Aguliar, age 49 of Mexico ICE hold, Charged with 11358 and 11359 H&S
Detectives apprehended the above listed suspects in this large marijuana grow on private land. Subsequent investigation eradicated 30,617 live marijuana plants from these connected sites
Backbone # 4 / Pine Creek, Balch Park, TCSO Case #’s 12-60745 and 12-60784
After an early morning insertion, detectives found that suspects fled into thick brush surrounding these garden sites on U.S. Forest Service lands. Detective’s eradicated 29,238 marijuana plants from the Backbone #4 grow site and 8,160 marijuana plants from the Pine Creek location. Cleanup efforts were completed on the Pine Creek site but due to the size of the Backbone grow site, reclamation efforts are pending.
Dry Creek #1 & Persian Creek, Badger TCSO case #’s 12-60789 and 12-60779
After an early morning insertion detectives found that suspects fled into thick brush surrounding these garden sites on private ranch lands in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Detective’s eradicated 3,078 marijuana plants from the Dry Creek #1 grow site and 7,974 marijuana plants from the Persain Creek location.
Bennett Creek, Three Rivers– TCSO Case # 12-60794
After an early morning insertion detectives found that suspects fled into thick brush surrounding these garden sites on private ranch lands in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Detectives eradicated 2,156 marijuana plants from this location
Dry Creek #2 & Dry Creek #3, Badger
Detectives found that suspects fled into thick brush surrounding these garden sites on U.S. Forest Service lands as they made entry into the sites. Detectives eradicated 7,445 marijuana plants from the Dry Creek #2 grow site and 13,361 marijuana plants from the Dry Creek #3 location. Cleanup efforts were completed on both sites.
These cases are still under investigation by the TCSO STEP Unit. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office S.T.E.P. Unit 800-808-0488 or through the TipNow Program. Text, voicemail or email 559-725-4194 or email@example.com.
Pictures are available on the Sheriff's Flicker page under the set titled "Marijuana Eradication - July":