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Hiker stumbles onto pot farm in national forest September 23, 2005 - azcentral.com
TUCSON - It began when a hiker in the Prescott National Forest stumbled across some interesting-looking plants Wednesday and notified authorities.
It ended on Thursday, after a stakeout, with the arrest of a Mexican national from Los Angeles charged with marijuana production.
Authorities say that so far at least 1,000 pot plants have been pulled from a field near Paulden, marking the sixth pot farm found in an Arizona national forest this year.
Four marijuana plots have been found on the Tonto National Forest and one on the Coconino, said Jim Payne, Southwest regional spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service. Those earlier busts netted about 100,000 marijuana plants, he said.
Wilderness areas used for marijuana farms across the West are often protected by forest canopies or situated in canyons where they are hard to spot and hard to access, Payne said.
The Prescott discovery "wasn't unexpected," said Lt. James Jarrell, who heads the Yavapai County Sheriff's special crimes section. "This is generally known as the general harvest time for this part of the state."
Deputies arrested Acejo Rodriguez-Martinez, 28, of Los Angeles at the site. Authorities looking for eight other pot-plot caretakers.
"He was one of the workers in the plantation," Jarrell said. "He was aware of eight other workers, and from his description, apparently none of the eight knew the others until their recruiter brought them together."
Rodriguez-Martinez and the others were believed to be illegal immigrants, Jarrell said.
Rodriguez-Martinez told investigators someone whom he did not know contacted him and offered him a job that paid well.
"They were paid $200 a day each for their assigned duties," Jarrell said. "His area contained about 400 plants."
Jarrell said approximately 1,000 plants had been pulled out by their roots as of Thursday night and authorities from several federal, state and local agencies involved were trying to assess the number of plants and acreage involved Friday.
Authorities haven't put a dollar value on the marijuana or decided where to destroy the plants yet, he added.
Robin Poague, regional patrol commander for Forest Service law enforcement in Arizona and New Mexico, said that until this year, the largest plot uncovered in Arizona had 20,000 plants.
Poague said the marijuana plots or farms are associated with Mexican drug cartels.
"The trend now is there are very large plots," Poague said. "I suspect what they're doing is evaluating the risk between bringing processed marijuana across the border ... versus cultivating marijuana in the forest."