$11M In Plants, Marijuana Seized, 28 Arrested Over Outdoor Grow-Op
SUNDOWN -- People figured there was something strange happening on the farmyard surrounded by a curtain of trees, but even the most suspicious residents of this tiny hamlet never imagined a marijuana operation of record proportions.
RCMP uprooted a huge Asian-run outdoor pot farm in southeastern Manitoba before sunrise yesterday, hauling away thousands of plants and nearly 3,000 pounds of cropped marijuana with a total estimated street value of $11 million.
It's the largest RCMP discovery of processed pot in Manitoba history, said Sgt. Steve Colwell. It is also the sixth pot farm raided by RCMP in rural Manitoba since Aug. 22.
Police arrested 25 men and three women. They are facing charges of cultivation and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
All were still in custody at RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg last night.
Investigators will try to determine if the people arrested are connected to any of the other outdoor marijuana crops found in recent weeks in Oak Lake, Arden, Amaranth, Tolstoi, and Richfield -- where more than 40,000 plants were discovered in total.
Most residents, while not surprised drugs had been found on the property, were shocked at the magnitude of the operation.
"Wow... I thought there were only a couple of guys on that farm," said Linda Dooley, who lives just down the road. "I could see a long, white plastic tent for a few months now.
"Obviously, something was fishy, but I didn't go near the place.
"It's a good thing it's gone. We don't need that here."
The farm is on a gravel road between Highway 12 and Sundown, about 125 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.
Colwell said officers are still trying to determine what role those arrested yesterday may have played in the drug operation. He noted that the weather had turned colder the past few days. "It was an outdoor grow operation. It may have been a case of wanting to get the crop off the fields," he said.
But Colwell said he doesn't know what, if any, negative effect frost would have on the leaves of a marijuana plant and its drug effectiveness.
Yesterday about 6 a.m., the RCMP drug squad and members of the emergency response unit swept through the small farmhouse and adjacent covered buildings.
Several of the people arrested could not speak English, compelling RCMP to use an interpreter.
One suspect required medical treatment after being cornered by a police dog.
Residents say unmarked police cars could be seen parked on backroads in the community for the past few weeks.
"We were hoping something was going down," Dooley said.
Yesterday, two RCMP cruisers blocked access down the gravel road, and residents heading to Sundown to pick up mail were turned away.
One woman drove a kilometre to see if rumours of the pot farm were true. "I've very upset about this," she said, on the condition her name not be used. "I can't believe they had a grow operation. I'm in disbelief."
She said an Asian family moved into the farmhouse surrounded by trees about two years ago.
Another resident said there were immediate concerns about their new neighbours.
"We questioned what they were doing here," she said. "This is cattle country but they had three cows. And they didn't know how to drive a tractor."
Colwell said the processed pot confiscated yesterday could be worth up to $3 million, based on a street price of $1,000 per pound, while the plants would be worth up to $8 million, based on a per-plant value of up to $1,000.
He said RCMP are seeing a trend developing in rural Manitoba.
"More and more, we're seeing outdoor operations... and they are getting larger and larger," he said.
Law enforcement officials say it's likely that drug operators have been driven east because of an intensive crackdown in the West.
Police consider British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario the top three provinces for marijuana grow-ops.
Recent marijuana grow operation seizures in rural Manitoba:
*Aug. 22 -- RCMP find 13,200 marijuana plants worth an estimated street value of about $13 million on a farm property near Oak Lake. A 46-year-old Scarborough man is charged.
*Sept. 7 -- RCMP seize more than 7,500 marijuana plants growing on a farm outside the hamlet of Arden. The seizure is worth an estimated $7.5 million. A 43-year-old man and a 44-year-old man are charged.
*Sept. 13 -- RCMP uncover 4,400 marijuana plants outside Amaranth worth an estimated $4.4 million. No one has been charged with this operation.
*Sept. 15 -- Two separate marijuana grow operations are discovered by RCMP on the same day. Near Tolstoi, officers find more than 10,600 plants, worth an estimated street value of $10.6 million, and charge a 42-year-old Gardenton man. RCMP seize more than 6,000 plants worth $6 million near Ridgeville. No one has been charged with that seizure.
*Oct. 7 -- RCMP find as many as 8,000 marijuana plants, worth up to $8 million, and between 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of marijuana processed and ready for sale, worth up to $3 million. Police arrest 25 men and three women.