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Exclusive: San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Raids High-Desert Illegal Weed Growing Operation

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY (CBSLA) - Sheriff's Deputies in San Bernardino County raided an illegal grow operation in the high desert, seizing nearly 5,000 plants in dozens of grow houses at a giant facility outside Victorville Thursday, and CBSLA was along for the operation.

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Dec. 9, 2021

Shortly after 7 a.m., deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department's Marijuana Enforcement Team cleared out an Oro Grande property.

It was their first raid of the day, and although they didn't find anyone, they knew people were just at the location. A kettle was still boiling water, a warm car still had keys in the ignition, but deputies were there to simply make arrests.

The team's first goal was to shutdown illegal grow operations, which have become a growing problem in San Bernardino County, especially in rural communities.

Thursday's bust was a big one.

"It looked large, but this even larger than we expected," said Sergeant Richard Debevec, who knows these type of illegal grow operations well.

Debevec heads raids similar to Thursday's five days a week, through the county's Operation Hammer Strike.

The sergeant said Asian gangs are behind many of the illegal marijuana grow houses they raid, but this one was different.

"This is a Hispanic grow. Everyone automatically thinks because it's a Hispanic grow, it is cartel related. Some are, some aren't. Some are just mom and pop operations,' he said.

Around the property, you can see where workers live. CBSLA found multiple sheds with beds on the ground, clothes, walkie-talkies, refrigerators full of food, a car with a scale in it. Then, in one room, there was a gun with several bullets.

Deputies said these operations are becoming more dangerous for residents.

"Deputies have responded to numerous shots fired calls. We have had shootings at grows. We have had residents tell us they are intimidated by the growers, where they will block access to a street," Sgt. Debevec said.

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Dec. 9, 2021

Investigators told CBSLA that at this particular grow house, there were about 30 green houses and, in total, 4,700 marijuana plans, which could bring in around $2 million worth of marijuana. Each plant isn't only illegal, but is also contributing to Southern California's drought problem.

"Plants this size, this time of year, are probably taking a gallon each and every day," Sgt. Debevec said.

All too often, the water is stolen from wells and fire hydrants. This operation had a pool and it looked like it was used to store water for the grow operation.

As for where all the marijuana is going, Sgt. Debevec said that some of it heads east, but much of it stays here.

"A lot of this marijuana is ending up in dispensaries here in California," the Sgt. said.

Deputies cut all of the plants they can.

"If they have enough bud on them, we'll take them, but if they are barely blooming, we'll leave them in place," a sheriff's deputy told CBSLA.

It didn't take long for deputies to fill up a trailer, which is headed to a landfill.

County code enforcement deemed the building unsafe, and will deal with the owners of the property, but while Thursday's raise felt like a success, deputies said they are far from winning the battle against illegal grow operations because many times grows they raid will pop up again and prosecutions for the crime are slim.

The lack of prosecution and lowering the penalties of making cultivation of marijuana a misdemeanor versus a felony, there was really nothing for anyone to lose," said Debevec.

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