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  1. Alfa
    DRUG BARONS BUY GROW-OP GEAR FROM GOVERNMENT

    Equipment Seized, Resold To Growers

    Enterprising drug barons have found an unusual supplier in their hunt
    for bargains on equipment needed to grow high-grade marijuana: the
    federal government.

    Hundreds of pieces of second-hand equipment used to convert an
    unassuming industrial space into a $1.1-million illicit marijuana grow
    lab were sold to accused drug traffickers through the Department of
    Public Works -- after it was earlier seized by police when other grow
    labs were shut down, York Region's police chief says.

    "I find it absolutely appalling," said Chief Armand La Barge.

    When investigators with York's Drugs and Vice Enforcement Unit raided
    a business unit in Stouffville, north of Toronto, this August, they
    found 1,116 marijuana plants and two men hiding, police say. The lush,
    green plants were being nursed by a sophisticated network of
    generators, heating, lighting and ventilation equipment.

    On almost all of the gear, officers found familiar markings -- police
    incident numbers from their own force and other police forces in Ontario.

    Puzzled officers traced the equipment to previous grow operation
    busts, two in York region in 1998 and 1999 and others from 2002 near
    Oakville, Ont., and in London, Ont., police said.

    The items had been turned over to the Department of Public Works
    through the Seized Property Management Directorate, the federal agency
    responsible for disposing of property confiscated by police and the
    courts.

    "We obviously have some very bold and resourceful criminals here who
    are either buying them directly or indirectly at bargain basement
    prices and putting them back into use in yet another marijuana grow
    operation," Chief La Barge said.

    "They are basically selling ready-made, tailor-made marijuana grow
    operations, the types of things criminals would be looking for."

    Although there has been talk among drug investigators across Canada of
    seized equipment being recycled, this is believed to be the first hard
    evidence of reuse of criminal equipment that police thought they had
    taken out of circulation by turning it over to Public Works.

    Chief La Barge is demanding that Scott Brison, Minister of Public
    Works, change the department's
    policy and destroy drug lab equipment.

    Mr. Brison was not available for comment yesterday.

    Jack Corwin, spokesman for the Seized Property Management Directorate,
    said his agency was not aware of York's concerns until contacted by
    the National Post.

    "We are very interested in following up with the police force, and we
    will check this out very thoroughly," Mr. Corwin said.

    The agency takes the most specialized hydroponic equipment and either
    donates it to a legitimate user -- such as a botanical garden or
    institution -- or destroys it, he said. The other stuff, such as
    generators and fans that have other commercial uses, are sold through
    private auction houses and liquidators.

    "It certainly is not our policy to sell ready-made grow ops," Mr.
    Corwin said.

    In a letter to Mr. Brison on Tuesday, Chief La Barge says: "It is very
    disheartening to our officers, and to me personally, that despite our
    hard work, this type of equipment is finding its way back into the
    hands of criminals. I am publicly urging you to take immediate action
    on this significant issue."

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