150 pot plants seized in Hilmar search

10/05/2012 2:03 PM

10/05/2012 11:16 PM

Narcotics investigators on Thursday afternoon seized 150 14-foot marijuana plants growing in the back yard of a Bloss Avenue home that was being used as a processing center for harvested marijuana, Merced County sheriff's officials announced Friday.

The drug seizure was a part of Operation Mercury, a joint effort of federal, state and local authorities to eradicate illegal marijuana-growing operations in several counties in the San Joaquin Valley.

About 4 p.m. Thursday, investigators from the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotics Task Force went to the home in the 21000 block of Bloss Avenue near Columbus Avenue on the western edge of Hilmar. The investigators were following up on tips.

Sheriff's spokesman deputy Tom MacKenzie said the investigators spotted two men trying to hide in the home. He said the investigators then spotted the 14-foot marijuana plants visible above the backyard fence.

The investigators searched the house and found the marijuana plants, along with about 100 pounds of harvested marijuana. MacKenzie said the house was being used as a processing center for the marijuana.

He said the two men were sleeping on a mattress found in one of the bedrooms. The other bedroom in the home was being used to dry the harvested marijuana.

The men had a tent in the back yard that also was used as a drying area for the marijuana. MacKenzie said the two Hilmar men found at the home, Luis Viera, 47, and Jesus Vasquez, 38, were arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana.

He said local farmers helped the investigators destroy the seized marijuana by lending them a backhoe to pull out the plants growing in the back yard.

Investigators participating in Operation Mercury still are responding to hundreds of tips from the public. MacKenzie said more search warrants and seizures are planned in the near future.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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