WALLACE - Nearly $10 million in marijuana was seized by Duplin County authorities in what officials are calling the area's largest pot seizure in years - possibly ever. More than 4,000 pounds of the drug was recovered early Sunday by sheriff's authorities, who worked with several other agencies for 36 hours to remove marijuana stalks from a heavily wooded area near Wallace.
According to Duplin County Sheriff Blake Wallace, the marijuana was found on a 15- to 20-acre plot of land about half a mile off Old Camp Road, close to the Sampson County line. The bust was the result of an ongoing investigation and a tip from a citizen who called the sheriff's office late Saturday evening.
"We had an ongoing investigation of a possible grow operation," said Wallace. "Then we did get a tip of unusual traffic in the area." The marijuana recovered Sunday morning, which weighed in at 4,160 pounds, has a street value of about $9.9 million, he said.
"I'm not familiar with anything of this magnitude in southeastern North Carolina," said Wallace, who has been in law enforcement for 17 years. "As far as marijuana and sophistication of operation, I've never seen anything like it."
Deputies responded to the wooded area at about 2 a.m. Sunday and discovered stalk after stalk of marijuana plants, some as tall as 13 and 14 feet, Wallace said. Three huts also were discovered on the land, likely inhabited by those who were tending to the plants, the sheriff said.
The huts, spread out from each other, contained propane cook tops, cell phone chargers, food, produce and pesticides used to treat the plants - "just about everything you would find in a normal home," Wallace said.
Despite just three small huts, the operation was too big to be operated by just three people.
"It would've had to have been more than three people tending to those plants," the sheriff said. He said that there were three to four sleeping bags in each of the small huts, indicating that several people may have been involved.
No arrests have yet been made. Wallace said that the owner of the land was not suspected to be involved or have any knowledge of the drugs being cultivated on his land.
Not all of the 15 to 20 acres of land contained marijuana.
Wallace described the plants as being grown in lanes among timber in the wooded area. The growers used lanes "cut out" about five or six months ago to grow the marijuana plants. Wallace on Monday said that authorities had been on the scene all day Sunday and until about 2 p.m. Monday recovering all of the marijuana. In addition to Duplin County Sheriff's authorities, approximately 11 deputies, each with the Sampson County and Wayne County sheriff's offices and officers with the Wallace Police Department, assisted in the bust. Wallace estimated that there were about 75 law enforcement officers in all working to clear the pot farm Sunday.
The Duplin County Sheriff's Office also solicited the help of the North Carolina Forestry Service in getting to where the marijuana plants were and a North Carolina Highway Patrol helicopter in surveying the surrounding area from the air to ensure that there were not any outlying marijuana fields missed by authorities. Deputies used a farm tractor with trailer to haul the marijuana from the farm. Not all of the drugs were probably destined for Duplin County, but would likely have been trafficked to other counties in the state.
"This is a good sting, any time you can prevent that kind of poundage from hitting the streets," said Wallace. He said that investigators were working toward the next step in the case - making arrests to go along with the seizure.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.