HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Pot Plants Smoked Out
Pubdate: Tue, 20 Sep 2005
Source: Star-News (NC)
Copyright: 2005 Wilmington Morning Star
Author: Ken Little
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Growers at Large, but Police Hope to Make Arrests

Between $7 million and $9 million worth of marijuana plants discovered
over the weekend on a remote tract of wooded land in Duplin County
went up in smoke Monday night.

Duplin County sheriff's investigators may have nipped the major
pot-growing operation in the bud, but growers of the illicit crop
remain at large.

Upward of 5,000 plants, some 14 feet in height, were taken to a
tobacco warehouse and then burned at an undisclosed location.

More than 4,000 pounds of high-quality marijuana was seized, an
unprecedented quantity in the region, Sheriff Blake Wallace said.

The plants were grown on about 15 acres surrounded by trees. The
cultivators lived on-site for up to six months in three crudely
constructed wooden huts.

As investigators switched into high gear, a state Highway Patrol
helicopter located a few smaller plots in the same area Monday,
Sheriff Wallace said.

"This is going to remain a priority for us, and we're working
diligently to make some arrests," Sheriff Wallace said.

The marijuana was growing in logging cuts about a half-mile off Old
Camp Road in the area of Huffman Road, near the Sampson County border.

"I was surprised to see an operation of this sophistication," Sheriff
Wallace said. "I feel certain that the people who were tending the
land were armed. There was some evidence to support that."

The cultivators used fertilizer and insecticide to protect the
harvest-ready plants. And they had cell phones to communicate with the
outside world.

A man scouting hunting locations spotted the plants and alerted
deputies, Sheriff Wallace said. About 2:30 a.m. Sunday, between 500
and 600 pounds of marijuana was found hidden in a ditch on Old Camp
Road. A search of the area at daylight revealed the plants. The
marijuana found in the ditch was ready for pickup, Sheriff Wallace

The growers would apparently use their phones to contact
co-conspirators, who would pick up the pot and leave food and supplies
in its place. Deputies moved in quickly because it would have been
very difficult to secure a perimeter around the area, the sheriff said.

Food and a battery to charge cell phones were found in the living
area. DNA and forensic evidence recovered from the site will provide
clues about the people who lived there, Sheriff Wallace said.
"Certainly, there are several people involved," he said. "We think
there are local people involved, but there are also people from
outside the area."

The property owner, W. Richard Sorrell, of Dunn, said Monday the land
is leased by a hunting club and part of it is also farmed. Mr. Sorrell
had no involvement in the illegal operation, authorities said. The
growers used advanced methods to cultivate the plants, Sheriff Wallace

"They were not harvesting the whole stalk at one time. They were
topping it so they basically got two for the price of one," he said.
If apprehended, the growers will be prosecuted federally because of
the quantity of marijuana seized. They could receive prison sentences
ranging from 10 years to life, said Emmett R. Highland, resident agent
in charge of the Wilmington office of the federal Drug Enforcement

Earlier this year, sizable marijuana fields were found growing along
the North Carolina-Tennessee border.

"To my knowledge, this is the largest outdoor marijuana grow in this
area," Agent Highland said.

Large outdoor marijuana plots were more common about 10 years ago, but
the growers were arrested and the approach changed, Agent Highland

"What you have now is plots ranging from 40 to 120 plants," he

Sheriff Wallace is optimistic arrests will be made.

"I can't help but think that some of this dope would have ended up in
the hands of some young people, and anytime you can prevent that it is
a good day," he said.
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