Police Seize $800,000 Worth Of Pot Plants
May 5 (BCN) ? Benicia police conducted a large-scale marijuana bust Friday and Saturday, seizing marijuana plants valued at between $800,000 and $1,000,000 from one address and conducting warranted searches at four other addresses.
A Vallejo man and a Benicia man were arrested in connection with the illegal plants, both of whom were charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, and criminal conspiracy.
The Vallejo man, Thomas James Mineo, 33, a convicted felon, was also charged with being in possession of a loaded firearm, and Wayne Lee Huffman, Jr., 27, of Benicia, was slapped with an additional charge of possession of psilocybin mushrooms, according to a police report.
Benicia police Sgt. Frank Hartig called the bust in its entirety "Huge. I mean, it's without a doubt the largest marijuana grow in the city of Benicia ever," he said, adding that it may be one of the better indoor marijuana cultivation operations in the history of Solano County.
The bust began Friday afternoon at a warehouse at 367 West Channel Road D in the Benicia Industrial Park. Police had obtained a search warrant for the property after being tipped off that the building was being used for marijuana cultivation.
Police observed Mineo and Huffman leaving the warehouse at about 4:44 p.m. As the two began to drive off, officers initiated a traffic stop on the suspects and detained them.
Detectives, meanwhile, entered the warehouse and found hundreds of marijuana plants and a sophisticated marijuana growing system utilizing equipment that the police report called "top notch."
The setup included 22 timed lighting systems and a ventilation system that made the odor of the plants nearly impossible to detect, police said.
The value of the equipment was estimated at $60,000 to $70,000.
Police seized a total of 429 mature marijuana plants from the warehouse, each of which could potentially yield about half-a-pound of high-grade marijuana, according to police.
Additionally, more than 400 marijuana baby clones were located that officials surmise would have replaced the main crop once it was harvested.
Ten to 15 pounds of marijuana were already harvested and in the drying stage. Police say the adult plants were about three weeks away from being harvested and sold.
Hartig said that some luck was involved in Friday's events, since police were not planning to take action that day.
"We knew that within the next week we were going to serve the search warrant," he said, but police had only planned to surveil the warehouse on Friday.
However, when the two suspects appeared, police decided to move forward, since one of the men was suspected to be a ringleader of the operation.
The results of the search surprised police, Hartig said.
"We didn't know what was out there 100 percent," said Hartig. He said the officers were unaware that "there was an operation of this magnitude out there."
The search of the West Channel property led to three additional search warrants for residences in Benicia, Vallejo and Danville.
The Danville address was the residence of the person renting the West Channel warehouse, and who was believed to be financing the operation.
The second search was performed at the Vallejo residence of Mineo, on San Marino Avenue. Police seized one pound of marijuana and a loaded handgun from the home.
The third search, at Huffman's address on Vista Grande Avenue in Benicia, yielded 25 mature marijuana plants that were being cultivated using a system identical to the one at the West Channel warehouse.
Police say those 25 plants are worth between $40,000 to $50,000.
The Danville search turned up information that led to yet a fourth search warrant for an address in La Grange, also belonging to the suspected financier of the operation.
Police searched the La Grange property on Saturday after tracking down a judge who was vacationing in the area and meeting up with him to obtain a signature on their search warrant.
They found that a cottage-like structure behind the main residence at the La Grange property had been converted into an indoor marijuana growing area. The investigators found equipment similar to that at the Benicia addresses, although no marijuana was located.
Hartig said that videos and digital photographs had been taken of the operation inside the warehouse before it was dismantled.
"I have no doubt that this grow will be used as a training video and a training aid. The craftsmanship ... everything about this grow was perfect," Hartig said.
Two additional suspects have been implicated in the marijuana cultivation scheme, and are being sought by Benicia police
One of the reasons marijuana is illegal today because growers in the 30s lobbied against hemp farmers -- they saw it as competition, because It is not chemically addictive as is nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine.