LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the largest illegal marijuana grow bust in the department's history.
According to the sheriff's department, investigators conducted reconnaissance missions in the Antelope Valley and identified more than 500 illegal cannabis grows, up from the 150
illegal grow operations identified just a year earlier, in 2020.
Violent crime in the area has been directly linked to the illegal operations, the department said in a written press release. In an unincorporated area of Lancaster, two murder victims were discovered adjacent to an illegal cannabis grow. Another murder victim was found buried in the desert near Lake Los Angeles in March '21, with the suspects wanted in that case running an illegal grow in the same area. Sheriff's department also reports that residents living in the area have also seen an increase of threats by armed individuals.
Environmental crimes are also a problem with illegal grows, the sheriff's department noted.
Two dead bears were found nearby and their death was attributed to banned pesticides and fertilizers used on the illegal crops. Water theft is another very expensive problem.
"Most Californians would be shocked and disappointed at the amount of water these unlicensed, illegal grows are using, especially as California is suffers from a drought," DEA Associate Special Agent in Charge Curt Fallin said. "By our calculation, the illegal grows in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties require an astounding 5.4 million gallons of water a day, every day."
As a result of the operation, sheriff's deputies in partnership with other law enforcement agencies made a total of 131 arrests, seized 65 vehicles, including two water trucks, as well as approximately $28,0000.
Villanueva also said that 130 locations were demolished, 180 animals were rescued, 33 firearms were seized and there were 19 arrests made specifically for water theft.
As for cannabis, the operation destroyed 33,480 pounds of harvested marijuana with an estimated street value of $1.193 billion, according to the sheriff department.
"What we want to do is send a clear and loud message to all the cartels and anyone doing illegal operations in the high desert," Sheriff Villanueva said. "'Your days here are over and we're coming for you.'"
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