Monday, August 20, 2007

"Hooked on Ponics"

A seven-month investigation recently has resulted in federal indictments against 25 people and it involved dozens of upscale homes in suburban Atlanta. The case began in February 2007 after Forsyth County deputies chased down a tip from Miami and it expanded to include 14 metro counties before the indictments.

The Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami had passed along a tip that a major pot grower was operating in the Atlanta area. In a matter of weeks, the investigators found marijuana farms in about 35 homes connected to the alleged kingpins of the operation, married couple Merquiades Martinez, 36, and Blanca Botello, 35, of Fayetteville GA.

Botello is alleged to have arranged for the real estate deals of the homes used in the operation and Martinez allegedly oversaw the growing and based it at a Fayetteville garden supply store. Jack Killorin, director of the Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, stated that the operation required elaborate heating, air-conditioning, lightingirragation systems and stolen electricity in roder to produce four crops a year of pot twice as potent as outside grown crops. Authorities said that the operation, which earned the name "Hooked on Ponics," in reference to it's hydroponic growth systems, produced about 11,000 pounds of highly potent $5,000 a pound pot.... a crop they estimate was worth approximately $50 million.

Police departments all over the country are increasingly raiding marijuana McMansions, homes in surburban America that have been purchased specifically to stuff full of hydroponically grown plants. These operations usually require enough electricity to power an entire block and were easily found through electric company usage records. These days though, they have the sophistication to rig and reroute the power lines so that if they are tested, they will shut the meter down to the power usage of a normal home.

Police began uncovering homes like these when area residents began complaining about hoimes that had been purchaed and then the exteriors were left to go wild, lawns uncut, garbage never taken to the curb. As with any criminal operation, they have taken steps to try and stay ahead of the law which includes moving a family into the homes and taking care to make it look as though they fit into the neighborhood.

A recent raid on a home in Rancho Cucamonga CA, yielded 634 plants in various stages of growth, having an estimated street value of approximately $4 million. The house had sold for $695,000, with a $556,000 mortgage and with operating costs estimated at $50,000, it is fairly easy to understand why this method is becoming increasingly popular. The hydroponic method also allows it to be grown in any neighborhood and throughout the whole year.

Authorities have also reported that growth operations like this are not limited to any one particular ethnic group either. While they have reported that Asian groups seem to be on the rise, they have found operations organized by whites, Hispanics, blacks and organized crime groups as well.

"We never saw them. This is a really friendly neighborhood. Everyone knows each other. We are always outdoors and we never saw them," stated Joan Howell, California resident.

Based on the profits that can be had for this kind of operation, it would seem that they aren't going to disappear anytime soon and more residents of America's suburbs will awaken to the sight of another marijuana crop being dragged out of an upscale home.


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