HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Green Sweep 3 Continues Pot House Crackdown
Pubdate: Wed, 27 Nov 2002
Source: Oakville Beaver (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002, Oakville Beaver
Author: Howard Mozel


"Green Sweep 3" might sound like a movie sequel but to Halton Regional 
Police it's another installment in the ongoing battle against prolific -- 
and potentially dangerous -- marijuana growing operations.

Last week officers raided three homes, two in Oakville and one in 
Burlington. Together with a Grosvenor Street house shut down on Nov. 6, 
police seized 2,368 marijuana plants worth $2.4 million, plus $50,000 of 
growing equipment.

According to Deputy Chief Gary Crowell, such illegal operations "plague 
communities" and present "a serious threat to public safety."

"These operations are not one-shot deals ... but are well-planned, 
organized criminal activity," said Crowell, adding that one grow house can 
yield four crops annually and earn $1.2 million or more a year.

Aside from the cultivation of illegal drugs, theft of electricity and the 
dangers presented to peace officers and firefighters, grow houses provide a 
reminder of how far some people will go for money -- a point underscored by 
the Nov. 21 bust at 2376 Redfern Drive in Burlington.

It was there, explained Sgt. Val Hay, that officers found 50 marijuana 
plants and growing equipment, plus dangerous wiring, high carbon monoxide 
levels and super-heated, 1,000-watt bulbs that can explode if touched. This 
was also the environment in which three children lived along with the two 
adult occupants arrested by police. The children are staying with friends 
until their parents are out of custody.

Charged in connection with that operation were Sang Chuong Lu, 36, and 
Quynh Giao Thi Le, 32.

At 2024 Grosvenor St., raided earlier this month, police and Oakville Hydro 
workers disabled a hydroelectric bypass and found 280 marijuana plants 
worth $280,000, plus $35,000 of hydroponics equipment.

Charged in this case were Minh Tien Nguyen, 33, and Thuy Van Luu, 34.

On Nov. 20, police seized 303 plants at 2010 Westmount Dr. Forensic work 
done by the Identification Bureau found fingerprints that Sgt. Hay said 
will lead to warrants being issued for one suspect's arrest.

On Nov. 21, police executed a warrant at 2519 Wynten Way in Oakville where 
they seized 2,015 plants in what officers describe as a "very 
sophisticated" operation. Again, Identification Bureau work will lead to 
warrants being issued for another suspect.

The latest Green Sweep (one was held in January, another in April) has 
added to the ongoing total of grow operations shut down and reveals that 
the problem is nowhere close to slowing down.

According to Crowell, there were no grow operations shut down in 2000, a 
number which grew to 20 in 2001 and 46 so far this year. All totaled, 
police have seized $17-million worth of drugs.

"We know there are more out there," said Crowell, who is asking the public 
to remain vigilant and keep an eye open for suspicious or unusual behaviour 
in order to shrink this number.

To that end, residents are encouraged to be aware of signs such as houses 
whose residents only sporadically attend, appear vacant most of the time 
and are allowed to become unkempt. Unusual smells may sometimes be detected 
emanating from a grow house while some or all of the windows may be 
covered. Bright lights may occasionally be seen in the home.

The public awareness campaign appears to be paying off, since Sgt. Hay said 
the seizures made this month were the direct result of tips received by 
police and Crime Stoppers.

According to Crowell, it is in the community's interest to remain aware 
since grow houses have impacts many citizens may not have considered.

For example, they compound the dangers faced by firefighters, who might 
respond to a blaze only to face a situation far more hazardous than that 
offered by a normal house. Because of the radical alterations done to these 
buildings in order to steal electricity and vent tell-tale fumes, the 
structural integrity can be so compromised that fire crews can encounter 
unstable walls, higher temperatures, electrocution and - in some cases - 
even booby traps.

Al McWhirter, a former police officer and now a broker/manager with RE/MAX 
Aboutowne Realty, said owners of a former grow house can face problems 
dealing with their insurance company and difficulties in selling the 
property since disclosure of the home's illegal past is necessary. Buyers 
can also face problems, such as mould, years down the road.

"The buyer must be protected after the fact," said McWhirter, who in July 
hosted a seminar on the issue attended by 120 realtors. "Consumers should 
understand what they're paying for."

Owners can also find themselves on the hook for the cost of stolen 
electricity, which Bob Myers, of Oakville Hydro, says the utility is 
determined to recoup.

His company has reclaimed $450,000 of the estimated $520,000 worth of power 
stolen in connection with Oakville grow houses in the past 12 months, so 
that these losses are not passed on to customers at large.

Myers also explained that the practice of bypassing hydro meters and 
rewiring homes effects not only dollar losses, but also the chances of fire 
and the security of the entire electric system.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth