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Tip leads to county's biggest drug bust of year; 4 arrested
About 500 marijuana plants, most of them 2 feet to 3 feet tall, grow hydroponically under special lights at a home on 73rd Avenue, north of Olympia. The home was one of five raided after a two-month investigation. Courtesy of Thurston County Narcotics Task Force
SCOTT GUTIERREZ THE OLYMPIAN Four men face drug charges after police raided five homes linked in a large-scale, indoor marijuana growing operation. Authorities seized 955 marijuana plants, 10 pounds of processed pot and 10 pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms after serving a series of search warrants Tuesday, they said. It added up to the largest marijuana bust of the year and the second-largest ever recorded in Thurston County, said Capt. Jim Chamberlain, who heads the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force.
"Five search warrants in one day is more than a day's work," Chamberlain said. "When you take out that many marijuana plants in a one-day operation, you don't do much better than that."
David R. Sedgewick, 59, Stefan P. Boyle, 36, and Ricky L. Simmons, 48, were booked Tuesday into the Thurston County Jail on suspicion of drug possession and manufacturing. Boyle and Sedgewick were released after posting bail.
A fourth man, Benjamin T. Scheffer, 46, was arrested and booked Wednesday.
Detectives were trying to learn more about the size of the operation and who else might have been involved, Chamberlain said. Detectives also were sorting through bundles of documents taken from the homes.
How it happened
The busts began at 8 a.m. Tuesday when detectives and SWAT team officers entered a home at 5711 73rd Ave. N.E., just off Johnson Point Road. An hour later, across Henderson Inlet, officers served two more search warrants at 3419 and 3421 Fishtrap Loop N.E., Chamberlain said.
Evidence gained from the first three places led detectives to two additional locations, 3202 Fishtrap Loop N.E. and 947 76th Ave. N.E., off Zangle Road, Chamberlain said.
About 500 plants, between 2 feet and 3 feet tall, were found at the 73rd Avenue location in a garage separated from the house. The plants were growing under special lights and light shields.
In the other homes, police found 400 more plants, about 150 starter plants and a room full of harvested plants hanging from cords dangling from the ceiling.
Maintaining plants in all three stages allowed the suspects to keep a continuous production cycle, Chamberlain said.
The suspects were linked during a two-month investigation, which began with a tip to Thurston County Crime Stoppers, police said.
Officers also recovered about $16,000 in cash and three firearms from the homes.
The large quantity of plants and packaged marijuana made it difficult to ascertain how much money the operation was raking in, detectives said.
Chamberlain estimated they were producing about two pounds of pot per week, which could be sold for $6,000 to $8,000 per pound.
The plants were growing hydroponically in nutrient-rich liquids instead of soil, Chamberlain said.
Marijuana possession charges carry penalties of up to 90 days in jail. Authorities said they were investigating whether the evidence supports charges of firearms violations, conspiracy or more serious allegations such as leading organized crime, which carries a 5-year prison sentence.
Tuesday's bust was smaller than a case four years ago, when detectives seized 2,000 marijuana plants from a home in the 2700 block of 15th Ave. S.E., east of Boulevard Road in Olympia, Chamberlain said.
But it was the fifth large illicit drug-distribution operation shut down in Thurston County during the past year.
The drug task force has been able to focus on larger criminal cases since the sheriff's office developed its own team to investigate meth labs and street-level drug dealers in late 2001, Chamberlain said.
The sheriff's Special Enforcement Team took part in Tuesday's raids, along with the State Patrol and officers from the Tumwater Police Department.
The Special Enforcement Team was created to better handle the burgeoning meth problem. Deputies assigned to the unit were trained and equipped to process meth labs, whereas the sheriff's office previously relied on the narcotics task force or the State Patrol for assistance, sheriff's Capt. Dan Kimball said.
"Clearly we're dealing with a lot of stuff that the drug unit was dealing with before."