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August 16, 2008
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Marijuana gardens may have Mexican connection

The raid of several connected marijuana gardens this week revealed the continued presence of what appear to be Mexican growing operations in Nevada County, sheriff's officials said.

In the biggest pot raid of the year, Nevada County sheriff's deputies seized more than 1,600 marijuana plants in the South Fork Yuba River canyon Wednesday, near the Highway 49 bridge.

No one was arrested in the raid, Capt. Ron Smith of the Nevada County Sheriff's Office said.

"We believe it was a commercial drug trafficking operation, but it appeared to be abandoned," Smith said. "There was chicken wire, trash and garbage, showing people had been there, but they were all gone."

The growers' method of operation matched that of Mexican growers throughout the state, Smith said.

"(Mexican growers) live in the gardens, as opposed to a grower who visits a garden, tends to it and goes home," Smith added.

Mexican organizations have expanded their presence throughout the United States in recent years, especially in rural California.

Narcotics officers believe the organizations grow marijuana and use the sales to supplement methamphetamine labs.

In June, seven people were arrested on Bitney Springs Road at a site where processed marijuana kef, methamphetamine, cocaine, $48,000 in cash and several weapons also were allegedly found.

Federal drug enforcement officials believe two men arrested there may have ties to big Mexican drug operations, Sheriff Keith Royal said at the time.

It was unclear whether the pot farms raided Wednesday were connected to the June bust.

The total volume of marijuana confiscated this week could fetch as much as $1.3 million, according to estimates by local law enforcement.

The sheriff's office came to know of the operation a few weeks ago, Smith said.

"This is the time of the year when we fly, looking for marijuana operations, as it's nearing harvest time," he said.

During the raid, sheriff's deputies found six to seven interconnected pot gardens all on federal Bureau of Land Management property, said Sgt. Bill Smethers of the county's Narcotics Task Force. The gardens were spread out over the hillside and had a gravity-fed irrigation system, Smethers said.

"They had actually started harvesting some of the plants, leaving the stalks on the ground," he added.

The raid involved about 30 law enforcement officers with the Nevada County Sheriff's Office, Butte County Sheriff's Office, California State Parks and the Department of Fish and Game, Smith said.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail or call 477-4229.

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The Union Updated Aug 16, 2008 12:44AM Published Aug 16, 2008 12:41AM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.