09/11/06 — Catching marijuana growers expensive

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Catching marijuana growers expensive

By Lee Williams
Published in News on September 11, 2006 1:48 PM

Wayne County Sheriff's Office officials have several leads, but the identities of those responsible for growing more than 21,000 marijuana plants seized in recent months remain a mystery.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said Friday no arrests have been made in the cases, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.

"We're working on that," Winders said. "It's very hard to find who grows this marijuana. It's mostly Hispanics who set the plots up."

A total of 15,284 plants were seized in June during an aerial search conducted by the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, National Guard and the State Bureau of Investigations. The sheriff's search and rescue team, volunteers and the Goldsboro-Wayne County Drug Squad also assisted.

The plants were found near Black Jack Church and Ferry Bridge roads and would have had an estimated street value of $36.5 million had the plants reached maturity, officials said.

A total of 6,200 marijuana plants were seized in August after deputies spotted the green, leafy plants during a routine flight in the sheriff's office helicopter, "Raven."

The plants were about a mile from Norwayne Middle School near Airport and Lancaster roads and would have had an estimated street value of $15 million had the plants reached maturity. A campsite believed to be used by growers also was spotted.

Duplin County Sheriff's officials found 48,000 plants in the northeastern part of the county. The plants would have had an estimated street value of $18 million upon maturation, officials said.

Winders said he had been working with Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace to find the suspects. He said 350 manhours were spent waiting for the growers to return. The stake-out was called off because it was not cost-effective.

"You have to weigh the costs," Winders said.

How long do you put people on the post to lookout for suspects, Winders asked. There was overtime to consider and other crimes to solve, he added.

Based on information from other law enforcement agencies who face similar problems, "Hispanics" responsible for growing marijuana plants in the county don't appear to have a local connection.

"They come back weeks or months later and they come back and harvest," Winders said.

Marijuana growers typically grow on another owners land near a water source to avoid identification, officers said.

Tightened borders since the Sept. 11 attacks forced growers to raise marijuana fields in the U.S. The growers often avoid capture.

"We've made one arrest over several years," Winders said.

He added no arrests have been made in the Duplin County case either.

Sheriff Wallace or his media spokesman were unavailable for comment Friday.

Winders said it's going to take the help of the community to round up those responsible for the crimes.

Residents should be on the lookout for "Hispanics" who are seen coming out of the woods -- and not farming fields, Winders said.

He said residents should call Crime Stoppers at 735-2255 to report suspicious activity like the abovementioned and he warned residents not to approach suspected growers.

One resident found out the hard way that some marijuana growers are armed and dangerous. Winders said the man approached a grower and the grower threatened him with a gun.