TULARE – The Tulare County Sheriff’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel Team (STEP) was busy last week, arresting 15 suspects and eradicating more than 25,000 marijuana plants at several different sites.
As part of the team’s Marijuana Suppression Program, officers worked a number of details last week and were able to shut down at least six separate sites where marijuana was being grown illegally in the county.
“Marijuana season is in full force and we are doing everything we can in order to keep up with the shifting demand,” said Lt. Tom Sigley, commander for the Narcotics Bureau.
Sigley said that in the past, they have seen more gardens in the hill and mountain areas, but that is changing.
“With the cartels hiding behind the medical marijuana sites, we are now finding more on the valley floor in the middle of rural communities,” he said.
On July 26, the STEP Team and narcotics and gang units served a search warrant in the 10000 block of Rd. 248 in Terra Bella for reports of marijuana cultivation. They discovered 4,225 marijuana plants at the location, being grown in 21 separate enclosures hidden among trees in an olive orchard. Officers also found several pounds of processed marijuana.
Three suspects at the scene had medical recommendation cards for marijuana, but the total plant count at the location was above what was allowed for their medical needs, according to the sheriff’s department.
“This is just another way they hide behind the medical (recommendation),” Lt. Sigley said. “They broke each plot into different medical recommend, thinking this makes it legal.”
The suspects admitted to selling their extra marijuana to dispensaries for cash.
At the same location, officers also discovered 23 malnourished dogs running loose and chained on the property, as well as several dead dogs. One of the dead dogs was still chained to a tree.
“We noticed one dog there looked like he had a lot of mange on him. (He) definitely needs veterinary treatment,” said Paul Grenseman with Tulare Animal Control. “Another one had an infected paw about two or three times the size with a lot of very, very raw skin exposed.”
The animals were taken by Animal Control to get treated for their injuries and sicknesses, and will then be placed at the animal shelter. The four suspects at the scene were arrested for animal cruelty in addition to charges related to growing and processing marijuana.
On July 28, the STEP unit busted up two marijuana operations that had been discovered during routine over flights. Officers raided a large marijuana garden in the wilderness area on the Tule River Indian Reservation near Bond Creek. The marijuana was planted among native vegetation and under trees in an attempt to camouflage it.
When officers arrived on the scene, several suspects at the grow site fled into the heavy brush and thick forest nearby, officials said. Officers were unable to locate them.
At the site, detectives found a sophisticated growing operation utilizing drip irrigation. A nearby stream had been dammed and diverted to provide water for the marijuana. A total of 10,249 marijuana plants were eradicated from the site.
On the same day, detectives eradicated 10,729 marijuana plants from a wilderness area near Shade Quarter Mountain.
Three other operations during the week resulted in arrests and hundreds of seized marijuana plants in the cities of Orosi, Woodlake and Lindsay.
In total, detectives made 15 arrests during their week of operations. In Orosi, the following suspects were arrested: Jose Ramirez, 29, of Orosi; Erik Hortiz, 21, of Delano; Rodolfo Lozano Galvez, 24, of Moreno Valley; Carlos Manuel Deniz, 22, of Perris; Martin Huerta, 25, of Orosi; Javier Garcia, 20, of Delano; Fernando Alvarado, 25, of Delano; Jose Chavez, 25, of Perris; and Jesus Oliveras, 31, of Orosi.
In Terra Bella, the following suspects were arrested: Leonicio Gonzalez, 62, of Delano; Omar Gonzalez, 24, of Delano; Juan Gonzalez, 50, of Visalia; Fidel Lopez, 59, of Visalia; and Pedro Martinez, 44, of Terra Bella.
In Woodlake, Salvador Garcia, 21, and Jeronimo Ayala, 26, both from Woodlake, were arrested. In Lindsay, 23-year-old Alberto Zurita Ramos of Lindsay was arrested.