PATTERSON -- Last week's raid on a thinly disguised marijuana growing operation yielded nearly 7,000 pounds of the drug, authorities said Monday. Agents arrested four men on drug charges.
Arrested at the site Thursday were Javier Arias Guzman, 52, of Martinez; Melchor Cardenas, 21, of San Jose; Camilo Lopez Sujuan, 42, of Mexico; and Eric Pinal, 27, of San Jose. Authorities confiscated a shotgun.
According to Stanislaus County sheriff's Sgt. Robert Hunt, who is assigned to the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, Cardenas and Pinal tended the large growing operation, hidden behind a few rows of corn and a plywood fence just off Highway 33 near Holly Road. "They were hired by the Yerba Buena Collective to grow it and expected payment of $100,000 and $150,000, respectively," Hunt said, adding that state law prohibits the growing of marijuana for profit.
Guzman and Sujuan operated a smaller plot behind a house on the property, Hunt said.
Operators of the San Jose-based collective, a medical cannabis club, did not return calls for comment last week or Monday.
A neighbor of the property said she and others had reported the plot to authorities repeatedly. Hunt said the SDEA was well aware of the growing operation but had to wait until the investigation was complete and enough staff was available to conduct the raid.
"I've got a map on my wall with red dots on it (signifying reported marijuana-growing operations)," Hunt said. "In some places, I can't even see the map. But I only have so much staff."
Hunt said agents busted a similar operation on the same property about a year ago. The property owner doesn't yet face charges but will receive a letter stating that federal authorities will seize the property if further incidents occur there.
Hunt said his investigators are working with the U.S. attorney's office on possible federal charges, which carry a stiffer penalty than a state case.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2343.