Pubdate: Wed, 16 Jul 2008
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2008 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Linda Goldston
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


'Same Fingerprint': Food, Fertilizer Found In Saratoga Pot Bust

From the bags of beans and rice found in the camp to the type of
fertilizer used on the plants, the large marijuana farm in the
Saratoga hills that was the scene of a deadly shooting last week has
all of the marks of a Mexican drug cartel, law enforcement officials
said Tuesday.

The farm is part of a growing trend dating back to the 1980s, when
increased security at the U.S.-Mexico border prompted drug trafficking
organizations and cartels to move part of their business to California
- - and closer to their buyers.

"It's the same fingerprint," said Bob Cooke, special agent in charge
of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic
Enforcement. "These gardens are part of large organizations out of
Mexico with command and control in the Bay Area."

Last week's raid stood out because a pot farm with 20,000 plants was
discovered in the hills above multimillion-dollar homes.

The spectacular views from those homes didn't quite reach to the
remote farm, located only after an hour's hike into the remote canyons
and thick brush of the Saratoga hills. People in the area have called
the Mercury News and the police, saying they are afraid the two men
who escaped during Thursday's raid may come onto their property.

A connection to a drug cartel makes residents even more

"It's sort of like, whoa," said Kay Ralston. "You never think about
something like that. This is a nice neighborhood, quiet, very safe.
You don't think about pot farms."

Conditions in the camp were very similar to those at the pot farm
found near Mount Umunhum in 2005. Also similar was the violence: Raids
on both farms ended in shootings by officers, with one man killed at
each farm.

The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office has released few details about
the pot farm - except for the number of plants - and declined to
comment Tuesday about a link to a Mexican drug cartel or trafficking

"In this area and most of California, the marijuana cultivation is
controlled in part by the Mexican drug trafficking organizations,"
said Rich Camps, head of the South Bay Metro Task Force, a federally
funded multi-agency drug task force.

"The number of plants eradicated statewide has been doubling each
year," Camps said, "and 90 percent of that is directly related to
Mexican drug-trafficking organizations."

A second pot farm was discovered in the Saratoga hills when deputies
searched the area around the first one.

Holly Swartz, spokeswoman for the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting,
said Thursday's raid was the first here for the new eradication
season. She also said officers believed the Mexican food found in the
camp at the Saratoga hills pot farm was another indication of a cartel
or Mexican drug trafficking organization.

Camps said there is an increase in pot farms in the South Bay, that
"there are more grows we are watching."

Cooke said the big farms are usually located on state and federal
public land, including parks. The farm found in the Saratoga hills was
on land belonging to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and
a hillside resident.

"The big operations are pretty much all growing it the same way," he
said. "Small gardens with 15 to 30 plants, then trail off to another
15 to 30 plants and the surrounding foliage will lend itself to
natural camouflage."

Other signs are "what they're bringing in, where the fertilizer came
in, sometimes the brand," Cooke said. "They set up camp and then they
have to find water, pump it up using solar powered pumps or a water
source. Sometimes they divert creeks."

The farm was discovered when a resident of Bohlman Road noticed
unusual traffic on a footpath and contacted the sheriff's department.

When local and state officers hiked into the camp early Thursday, they
said they encountered three armed Hispanic men. One of the men was
killed by the fire of at least two deputies and the other two men
escaped on foot and remain at large.

"I ran up there to see if they needed any more help," Cooke

He said authorities will keep "beating the bushes" for the two men and
urged mountain residents or those living close to open space or public
park lands to be alert to any new trails or unusual vehicle traffic
going into the area.

"Somebody's got to drop them off, make food runs, bring them toilet
paper," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin