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$2.8 million of pot found

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Mike Heine
October 26, 2007
— Hunters stumbled upon what may have been one of the largest marijuana growing operations in Walworth County history.

On public hunting grounds near Turtle Creek just northeast of Highway 14 and Creek Road, hunters came across two sophisticated growing sites that had about 1,600 plants, said Sgt. Jeff Patek of the Walworth County Drug Unit.


The first site, with about 1,000 plants, was discovered Sept. 10, Patek said. The second, with about 600 plants, was found Saturday by one of the same hunters, Patek said.


The 10- to 15-foot-tall plants were starting to grow buds and were ready to be harvested, Patek said.


The growers appeared to have been staying at two campsites. Food, propane heaters and other items littered the area.


Hundreds of foam cups also were found, indicating the plants were germinated elsewhere and transported to the sites for planting, Patek said.


“You had to get right up on top of it before seeing everything,” said one of the hunters, who asked not to be identified because the growers have not been arrested. “They had it all hidden with vegetation.


“It was a really organized thing they got going on out there.”


More than two dozen officers from five counties helped clean out the latest field of marijuana Thursday.


A helicopter carried out tarp loads of the drug to a nearby hay field, where it was loaded onto pickup trucks and taken to a county-owned burn pit for destruction.


Police have made no arrests but are working with authorities in Kenosha County and Cook County, Ill., Patek said.


“There are some possible leads stemming from investigations that they are involved in,” Patek said, noting that the same growers probably maintained both sites.


Police destroyed the first field, discovered in September, and took the drugs out by boat. That site was closer to Turtle Creek.


Thick underbrush covered the second site, and police didn’t even know about the second field when the first site was destroyed.


The smell was so pungent from removing the first field that even drug-sniffing dogs likely would have been miffed, Patek said.


Doug Miller owns a home off Creek Road and could smell the marijuana that was being chopped down Thursday. The latest field was about 250 yards from his house, he said.


“I’ll assume I’m safer now,” said the father of two adolescent girls. “I’ll bet money they’re not coming back.


“This is amazing, though. That explains a lot of the foot traffic.”


Miller had seen more cars parking at the entrance to the public hunting ground. He had suspected it was coyote hunters or deer hunters scouting the land.


Each plant had about a half-pound of saleable marijuana, Patek said. Marijuana sells on the street for about $3,000 to $4,000 per pound. Cut into smaller amounts, it can sell for about $300 per ounce, or $4,800 per pound.


Estimating about 800 pounds of saleable drugs from the two finds, the street value of the marijuana is between $2.8 million and $3.8 million.


Dangers of discovery

Coming across a marijuana-growing operation like the ones found in Darien Township can be dangerous, police warned.It’s an illicit drug that people will take measures to protect. Growers could be armed, and police have seen some sites that were booby-trapped, said Sgt. Jeff Patek of the Walworth County Drug Unit.


“I thought I was dead. So did my buddy,” said one of the hunters who found the marijuana. “We were out there deer hunting with guns, but I immediately dropped to the ground. I told him to get down.


“I went through and kind of like cleared and checked the area. I had my rifle. If there was anyone out there, I probably would have shot.”


The hunters did the right thing by leaving and calling the police, Sheriff David Graves said.


“If things just don’t look right, give us a call,” he said.


He said to be careful in case the growers are still around.


“Get away from it. Give us a call. Mark it so we can get a good location on it,” Graves said.


It’s not often marijuana fields are found in public hunting grounds because they generally have more human foot traffic in them, Patek said. But growers look for remote locations with easy enough access to bring materials in and out unseen.


It is unlikely any growers will come back to this location, Patek said.



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