Pubdate: Thu, 18 May 2006
Source: Fort Pierce Tribune (FL)
Copyright: 2006 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Will Greenlee
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


PORT ST. LUCIE -- Most are from Cuba and the Dominican Republic and 
have been living in Port St. Lucie for as long as two years.

In general, they drive expensive vehicles, live in unremarkable or 
nice homes with big screen TVs and pricey computer equipment. They 
have minor -- if any -- criminal histories in Florida and draw little 

"They've all been nice people," police Sgt. Todd Schrader said. 
"They're people you wouldn't mind as neighbors -- other than the grow house."

For they also are all members of the largest marijuana growing 
organization in Port St. Lucie's history, police said on Wednesday.

"This is a multimillion-dollar operation," Schrader said. "The level 
of organization, we've never seen here in this city."

Schrader and other detectives shared details about the more than 12 
people arrested over the past 10 days in connection with the operation.

On Tuesday, police raided two alleged pot farms in the 200 block of 
Southwest Twig Avenue and the 6400 block of Northwest Halibut Street. 
Including two Lakewood Park homes hit last week by the St. Lucie 
County Sheriff's Office, police say they have now shut down 16 of the 
organization's grow houses.

Schrader said those arrested likely are low level workers, recruited 
through word of mouth, friends or relatives. The operation, which 
Schrader described as "organized crime," probably has a number of 
layers in a hierarchy over the growers, who likely don't know those at the top.

The growers, who speak Spanish or English and Spanish, are in the 
country legally, though they aren't United States citizens, police said.

"They're here on work purposes only," Schrader said. "I don't know 
what their work is other than growing marijuana and their bogus jobs 
of drywalling, painting, plumbers, taxi cab drivers, truck drivers, students."

Schrader said the most any of them earned legally is $12,000 a year 
- -- yet they're living in $350,000 or $400,000 homes and driving 
$50,000 vehicles.

Detective Daniel Herrington said some had legitimate jobs for years 
before deciding to enter the indoor cannabis cultivation business.

They lived all over the country prior to moving to Port St. Lucie and 
harvested the marijuana as many as four times annually, making at 
least $100,000 a year.

"They're mostly Cuban and what we've found so far is the Cubans are 
basically running it," Schrader said.

Police suspect the marijuana is being "shipped out," perhaps to 
another state, though the growers probably don't know the destination.

"We've got limited cooperation," Schrader said. "We're just really 
going off paperwork because nobody wants to talk."

The growers, he said, have been pleasant and some even apologetic.

"They know what they're doing is wrong, but they just won't speak 
about it," he said. "They've all taken responsibility."

At the Southwest Twig Avenue house on Tuesday, police arrested Jose 
M. Carmona, 43, on felony cultivation of cannabis and possession of a 
controlled substance charges.

Also Tuesday, police arrested Victor L. Valido, 41, in connection 
with an alleged grow house in the 1600 block of Southwest Burlington 
Street raided Monday.

"Each time I tell you the end's in sight, it's not in sight," 
Schrader said of the investigation. "We don't know what tomorrow brings."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom