Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies seized more than $1 million worth of marijuana plants during a remote raid Wednesday morning in the Jemez Valley.
The farming operation was composed of two large areas where hundreds of plants had grown to nearly 5 feet tall, and some had already been harvested. Sheriff’s deputies said, in total, more than 1,000 marijuana plants were found growing on public land in the Santa Fe National Forest near the Gilman Tunnels.
Sandoval County Undersheriff Karl Wiese said 350 plants were drying when law enforcement arrived, and three fields had already been harvested. The other plants were nearing harvest, he said.
Officials believe 10 to 12 people were involved in the operation, though no one was arrested, and they had established an “elaborate” irrigation system drawing from a nearby stream. They also used a makeshift processing station that was hidden with camouflage tarps.
Sandoval County Lt. Robert Chavez said his team of deputies and the other agencies involved in the raid appear to have missed those who cultivated the crop by only about 10 minutes, based on what evidence they found at the scene, which included urine puddles. They met at 5 a.m. to finalize the operations plan, Wiese said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration remained at the scene collecting possible evidence, Chavez said. He said his team found several tents, food still on the stove, supplies, ammunition and “lots of beer” near the site, which sat on top of two mesas.
Wiese said they did not recover any firearms.
Because the operation had the high ground, Chavez said, law enforcement agencies were concerned about officer safety and officials said secretively raiding the site to arrest any suspects would have been difficult and dangerous.
“There’s no way we could have gone in discretely,” Sandoval County Sheriff Doug Wood said. “It’s almost preferable that they leave.”
Wood said whoever operated the illegal grow likely saw a stream of law enforcement vehicles before they decided to run, and officers soon discovered their campsite and other evidence that suggested recent occupation of the area.
They could not say how long the farm had been in the remote part of the forest, though a Google Earth image of the area from late June shows the checkered landscape of the illegal operation, and Wood said he heard about the grow operation two months ago while campaigning. That’s what he said might have started the inter-agency effort to find and seize the drugs.
The task force involved in the seizure contained law enforcement officers from State Police, DEA, Sandoval County, the Albuquerque Police Department and the National Guard. Dozens of individual officers helped in the seizure, officials said.
Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office officials said the seizure is the largest they’ve responded to in at least the last decade, and perhaps even longer.