Pubdate: Fri, 01 Aug 2008
Source: Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Copyright: 2008 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Charles Keeshan and Kerry Lester
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


In a 48-hour span, authorities uncovered two massive marijuana farms
growing in neighboring McHenry County cornfields, seizing and burning
thousands of plants valued at nearly $4 million and arresting a man
who they believe lived on one of the sites and tended to the illegal
crops full time.

Acting on information developed by investigators, McHenry County
Sheriff's deputies searched the wooded area in a field near southeast
Hebron Wednesday and discovered several cultivation areas where about
2,000 plants measuring three to five feet tall were growing.

Nearby they found an encampment that was home to a pair of suspected
caretakers who were on the site when deputies arrived.

Arrested was Miguel Talavera-Lopez, 24, of Battle Creek, Mich., on a
felony charge of unlawful production of cannabis plants. He remained
in custody at the McHenry County jail Friday unable to post a $40,000

The second man spotted at the scene fled deputies. Efforts to capture
him with the assistance of police dogs and state troopers were

McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren said Friday that two migrant
workers were "recruited at a shopping mall in Chicago, brought there,
dropped off and paid to tend to it."

Sheriff's Sgt. John Koziol said the site was home to a sophisticated
operation that appears to have been running longer than just this year.

"They had a full camp set up, with a sleeping area, a kitchen, even an
area set up as a bathroom," Koziol said. "They used branches to make
themselves shelves and had propane tanks for cooking."

Deputies also discovered fertilizer, water sprayers and gardening
tools on the site.

Sheriff's police burned all but about five dozen of the plants seized
in the bust, saving only those needed as evidence against
Talavera-Lopez, Koziol said.

"This was a significant arrest," he said. "We took about 2,000 pounds
of marijuana off the street."

In a second bust, Sheriff's police Friday morning found another field
of 1,800 plants growing about four miles away on McHenry County
Conservation District property near southwest Hebron.

"We don't know that there's a relationship between the two, but there
could be," Nygren said.

Plants at both sites were cultivated by "fairly scientific growers"
and have comparative street values, Nygren said.

The second field also featured a campsite where plant cultivators were

"It was described to me that it looked like 'Gilligan's Island,'"
Nygren said. "There were tables, pots and pans and water. People were
living out there 24/7."

Police cut, stacked and burned the plants on the second site late
Friday morning.

Nygren said Sheriff's police were tipped off to the first site by a
flyover last fall with the Drug Enforcement Administration. "We saw
the field during the flyover and made a note of it. It was already
harvested and we figured we'd come back the next summer on the outside
chance (the plants) would be growing there again."

The discovery of the two sites, Nygren fears, is only the

"This is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "We know that when you're
in rural areas like this, this is where these (marijuana farmers) go."

Last July, 30,000 marijuana plants were discovered growing in
Barrington's Crabtree Nature Center. The crop was estimated to be
worth $10 million.