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A tip from hikers led narcotic agents to a 5,000-plant marijuana garden with a street value of $480,000 on June 10.
Ten agents from the Gila County Narcotics Task Force, the Gila County Sheriff's Office and the U. S. Forest Service raided the remote site located north of the Boy Scout Camp Geronimo at the base of the Mogollon Rim.
"The human contact with the hikers spooked them (the growers)," an undercover GCNTF agent said. "That's the way it usually is. If anyone discovers them, they abandon (the marijuana garden) right away."
After scouring the site, agents immediately destroyed the plants that ranged from 2-to-8-inches in height.
"It's still early in the growing season. The plants there weren't yet mature," the agent said.
Undercover agents believe the site, and one found April 20 north of Globe, were probably controlled by a Mexican drug cartel.
"Both were typically the way they (the drug cartel) operates," an GCNTF agent said. "The dealers were going to be there a while; we found a well stocked kitchen with 50 pounds each of pinto beans, rice, corn maza mix and a sleeping quarters up on a hill."
According to the agents, the hikers who accidentally stumbled upon the illegal drug operation, tried to make small talk with the Mexican nationals overseeing the site.
"The hikers said they were only looking for a spring but didn't get much response," the agent said. "So, the hikers quickly got out of there."
Undercover officers involved in the raid believe the drug cartel has other illegal marijuana gardens growing in the state's national forests.
"This is just the start, there will be others," an agent said.