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Huerfano Sheriff’s Office, Feds take down $10 Million illegal pot operation

HUERFANO COUNTY — The Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the US Forest Service and US Bureau of Land Management law enforcement raided a huge suspected drug cartel marijuana grow operation in the San Isabel National Forest Wednesday, September 9. The size of the four location pot grow is a near record in Colorado and even more rare, was the capture of two of the suspected five or six pot farmers who were at the site when the raid was made early Wednesday morning. Two yet unidentified Mexican nationals are in custody at the Huerfano County Jail facing initial charges of illegal marijuana cultivation for distribution. “It is extremely rare to catch someone at these kind of sites,” Sheriff Bruce Newman said Thursday. When law enforcement agents commenced the raid, the suspects fled the scene in every direction. Sheriff Newman said federal agents were able to run down two of the fleeing farmers and tackle them. Nearly 12,000 individual plants were discovered at the four connected grow sites. Federal officials estimate the value of the illegal marijuana at “at least” $10,000,000. The newly budding plants were destroyed at the site Wednesday, with the exception of some samples that were seized as evidence and for testing. Sheriff Newman said with the wet weather the area has had this year, the growers got a late start on their operation and were still some days to weeks away from harvest. The joint local-federal law enforcement teams hit the grow site and the worker’s campsite from two directions at approximately 8:25 am, catching the growers preparing breakfast. Authorities converged on the growers from below and above the campsite with the advance team coming in from the mountain side down and getting within 30 to 50 feet of the growers before rushing in. The Huerfano Sheriff’s Office has been working on the investigation for a little over two weeks, after a pair of bow hunters, scouting for hunting locations in the San Isabel Forest in the vicinity of Bear Lake / Blue Lake stumbled across the a grow site and reported their find to a deputy. Sheriff Newman said there were two large grows on adjoining ridge lines and two located in the small valley in between the mountains. The location was at about 10,000 feet and far away from any trails. The growers had built a holding pond on the creek and were taking water in miles of black pipe from there to the grow sites. Sheriff Newman said the operation was professional and extensive, with each of the nearly 12,000 pot plants having its own individual feeder line equipped with a shut off valve coming off of the main plastic water line from the holding pool and creek. The growers had built lean-to shelters covered with tarps and branches as sleeping quarters and had a kitchen / eating area well established. Federal officials will be back in the area soon to remove all the debris from the sites and acess the damage done to the national forest. No one was injured in the operation and one .22 rifle was found. Sheriff Newman said there were no booby traps or noise makers found. Tin cans tied together with string and put at foot and waist level are often used by illegal growers as early warning systems to alert them when someone is nearby. As of Thursday the two growers arrested in the mid-week raid have not been identified. They will be prosecuted by the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office with the federal government waiving jurisdiction to the local prosecutor.