Was man arrested in large pot grow forced to tend crop?

03/29/2013 11:35 AM

03/29/2013 9:59 PM

A man arrested on suspicion of cultivation of marijuana on Thursday told Modesto police that he was taken to the home to tend the crop. Police say he may have been working off a debt for being brought into the country illegally.

Agents from the Modesto Police Department's Narcotics Enforcement Team served a search warrant in the 700 block of Codington Way on Thursday. They booked Fabian Ballesteros-Mendoza, 25, for suspicion of cultivation of marijuana and theft of power. In the house, agents found 663 plants with a street value of $1.99 million, said the team supervisor, Sgt. Kelly Rea said.

"This grow was brought to our attention by neighbors who were noticing strange behavior at this house," Rea said in a news release. "We conducted a drug investigation into the house and served a search warrant. Fabian said he was brought to this house to tend to the grow. He said he did not know the owners of the house or who he was working for.

"It appears he may have been working off a debt for being brought into the United States. This is a very common practice, where subjects pay coyotes (smugglers) to bring illegal immigrants across the border. When the subjects can't pay the coyote, they are basically sold into slavery to harvest the grows in exchange for their debts."

The house had the ability to grow four harvests a year, which would gross nearly $8 million, according to police Sgt. Rick Applegate. The subjects were stealing electricity, so they were not paying the large cost of operating an indoor grow.

Codington Way is near Creekwood Drive, off Claus Road across the street from Johansen High School.

Anyone with information on the grow house is asked to contact agent Jacob Keiser at keiserj@modestopd.com.

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