Alberta police shut down eight Edmonton-area marijuana grow operations in a Tuesday sweep of more than a dozen properties.
Police said the homes and commercial properties are associated with one robust criminal organization that has been based in the capital region for about 10 years.
Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, commonly referred to as ALERT, said the 13-hour blitz marks the largest number of grow operations busted in a single sweep in this province's history.
ALERT, an umbrella agency that pools the resources of provincial police forces, conducted a year-long probe into the unnamed criminal organization.
Thirteen search warrants were executed on Tuesday at properties in Edmonton, Sherwood Park, Fort Saskatchewan and Spruce Grove, as well as Strathcona and Parkland counties.
The majority of the properties containing grow-ops were larger houses in newer neighbourhoods, such as Belle Rive, Brintnell and Cameron Heights.
One house, on 89th Street near 161st Avenue, has a city-assessed value of $531,500.
Another on Caldwell Close was last valued at $722,000.
Many homes near Caldwell Close are still under construction, and any equipment or activity associated with the alleged grow-op blended in well with all the noisy work going on in the neighbourhood.
No one actually lived in the home, ALERT Insp. Kevin Galvin said.
It was only used to raise plants found in various stages of growth.
They go to lengths to avoid detection, so they'll go into communities like this, Galvin said.
Edmonton police and RCMP helped ALERT seize 4,500 pot plants Tuesday, worth an estimated $5.6 million, along with 47 pounds of ready-to-sell pot that would likely fetch $118,000 on the street.
The majority of the pot was seized from a home in Fort Saskatchewan and an acreage in Spruce Grove.
The criminal organization trafficks drugs to B.C. and has at least one link to the United States, police said.
Galvin admitted Tuesday's bust may only make a small, temporary dent in the local pot industry, but stressed grow-ops are also a significant public safety hazard.
In order to avoid detection, they cheat the power, Galvin said.
Serious growers steal commercial amounts of electricity from tampered and ill-equipped lines to power commercial generators, lights and other equipment needed to grow large amounts of marijuana, increasing the risk of fire and the potential of electrifying the property.
Police recovered a shotgun, handgun and ammunition, as well as $50,000 and a substantial amount of growing equipment on Tuesday.
They also seized about $500,000 in property, called proceeds of crime, including seven trucks, four cars, four motorcycles, a van, a motorhome, a snowmobile and watercraft. ALERT identified 38 people they believe to be associated with the criminal organization, and four particular people at the top.
While no one was in custody on Wednesday, charges are pending.
By Ben Gelinas,
July 8, 2010