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23,000 marijuana plants seized in big Bonanza bust

by Mary Lowers

On September 14 at two in the afternoon Saguache County Sheriff Office (SCSO) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) along with members of the Colorado Drug Task Force conducted a raid on a suspected illegal marijuana growing operation five miles up County Road LL56 on the way to Bonanza. According to Deputy Wayne Clark, 23,043 mature marijuana plants growing outdoors were seized. The press at the scene watched in amazement as some fifteen longbed pickup trucks came down the steep driveway loaded with pot. The marijuana was loaded into a huge Saguache County Road and Bridge dump truck and was burned according to regulations at an undisclosed location.

Six men were arrested at the grow. The six include: Lik Chan, 24, and Lee Anton, 30, whose identification says they are residents of Quincy, MA; Mi Chen, 50,  a resident of Thirten, OH; Dallas TX is the home of Ming Deng, 44; Jiang Xui Hiang, 39 and Yat Chan, 50, claim Villa Grove as their residence. All suspects were taken and booked into the Saguache County Jail on charges related to marijuana. Of the six suspects, one was a US citizen, one a naturalized citizen, two had green cards and two had no papers to be in this county. Neighbors only ever saw two of the six arrested. Deputy Clark told me one suspect tried to escape unsuccessfully. Clark said, “Running does not work at 8000 feet.” As we go to press four of the six suspects have bonded out of jail and two remain in custody on an immigration hold. The six will be tried in Saguache County. Clark said, “There may be federal charges” in the future.

The bust was the result of two months of investigation by the SCSO, particularly by County Code Enforcement Officer and Saguache County Deputy Wayne Clark, with consultation with Sheriff Dan Warwick, who is very motivated to empower the code enforcer. Neighbors on the road called Saguache County Land Use Administrator Wendi Maez to report large amounts of water being hauled up their driveway daily, and about the skunky aroma in the air. Maez became immediately suspicious that there was an illegal pot growing operation and called County Code Enforcer Deputy Wayne Clark and Sheriff Warwick with the information.

Clark said, “I made several attempts to contact residents of the house.” He hiked up the steep hillside behind the residence to get photos of the plants. When the evidence to warrant the bust was in place, other agencies were called in for manpower and the operation went down. The warrant was issued based on the evidence collected over two months. The house had been owned for one year by the suspects and Clark did not know if marijuana was grown there last season.

A new District Attorney, Crista Newmyer Olsen, is willing to prosecute illegal marijuana growing operations in the valley. Growing pot is legal, but as Sheriff Warrick said, “play by the rules.” Clark made it clear to me that the County would love for people growing illegally to go into the Land Use Office in Saguache, talk to Wendy Maez and get into compliance with the law. Clark told me, “If people do stuff legally we are ok with that.” Clark indicated that the County is becoming proactive in prosecuting illegal marijuana growing operations. He told me “we are working on another couple” of suspected illegal grows.

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