Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 Source: The Herald, Everett, Washington State, USA Page: 1A Contact: Drug task force strikes followup blow By SCOTT NORTH, Herald Writer A drug investigation sparked by a fire near Stanwood three years ago on Wednesday led to the dismantling of an alleged marijuana distribution ring with participants in Snohomish County and Eastern Washington. The Snohomish Regional Narcotics Task Force teamed up with agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and others to stage a series of raids on homes and businesses near Moses Lake and Spokane. An underground marijuana farm containing more than 2,000 plant with an estimated value of $2 million was discovered under an alfalfa field near Warden, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office reported. That's in addition to the 2,200 marijuana plants that were discovered in 1994 near Stanwood, when a hidden pot farm there was discovered after the generator powering its lighting sparked a blaze. In all, 10 people have been indicted for alleged federal crimes, including drug manufacturing and money laundering. So far, five Eastern Washington men have been arrested, and others were being sought, officials said. "I think we have shut down a major marijuana distribution network in the state of Washington," said Snohomish County Sheriff Rick Bart, who traveled to Moses Lake to join more than 80 federal, state and local law enforcement officers in the raids. The group, a looseknit collection of friends and family, allegedly was investing its drug money in legitimate business and property investments on both sides of the state, task force Cmdr. Al Shelstad said. "We would venture to say a million dollars plus a year, easy," he said. The investigation began in May 1994 when an outbuilding in the 2900 block of 40th Avenue NW caught fire. People lining in an adjacent home on the property fled before the arrival of fire crews and law officers, leaving the door open and the television on. A backhoe and large truck were found at the scene. The vehicles were registered to people in Eastern Washington, and task force detectives pursued the link, Shelstad said. Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, in 1994 filed suit in U.S. District Court in Seattle, attempting to seize the property where the indoor pot farm was found. Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel represented the property's owners, a Marysville man and his son. Both are in the hot tub business. Most of the people arrested in Eastern Washington on Wednesday morning were deposed as part of the property seizure case, Mestel said. He had no immediate word on whether his clients were among the indicted. Federal agents on Wednesday again seized the Stanwoodarea property. They also seized a 40foot yacht at Lake Union. Besides the drug task force and DEA, other agencies participating in Wednesday's raids included the Grant County Sheriff's office, the Washington State Patrol, the Internal Revenue Service, Moses Lake police, and federal marshals. Sheriff Bart is a former sergeant of the regional drug task force, and he understood and supported the need for a quiet, careful investigation that took local drug detectives far afield from Snohomish County, Shelstad said. The marijuana allegedly grown by the group was sold statewide, he said. "This group affects Snohomish County deeply," Shelstad added.