HUERFANO– This time of the year the trees are turning from green to gold and the grasses from green to brown. However, the Cannabis, better known as marijuana, turns an almost fluorescent green before it goes to brown, making it highly visible. With this in mind, Huerfano County Sheriff Bruce Newman and his deputies take to the air every fall expecting to locate stashes and crops in various parts of the county.
For several weeks before September 14, deputies specially trained in aerial marijuana spotting were flying areas of Huerfano County looking for the illegal crops. Their work came to fruition just days before September 14. Deputy Sergeant Milan Rapo located a large crop of suspected marijuana at a rural location not far outside of Gardner. While Sheriff Newman activated his tactical deputies, others scurried about the courthouse getting search warrants approved and signed.
Law officers know that entering a drug cache with a warrant is always risky business, so there was considerable preparation. They armed themselves with tactical weapons, donned BDU (battle dress uniforms) and traded their SUV patrol units for off-road four wheelers.
With an entry plan in place, Sheriff Newman and Undersheriff Dave McCain gave the signal and the premises were swiftly entered and neutralized. Once inside, they found a high tech growing operation and more. Officers seized over 350 mature marijuana plants, some reportedly as tall as ten feet. In addition, they found a quantity of black tar heroin, hallucinogenic mushrooms similar to peyote, spores to grow more mushrooms and equipment to process the goods for sale. Sheriff Newman estimates the street value of the drugs at 1.5 to 2.0 million dollars.
The Sheriff and his officers were not remiss in preparing themselves for a possible confrontation on entry. In addition to the contraband, deputies seized a cache of weapons, including several full automatic rifles, numerous handguns and a large amount of ammunition. It was determined these weapons were not just for show.
Arrested at the scene were 52-year-old Paul Zukowski and 35-year-old Rosa Zukowski, both from California. The Zukowskis were charged with numerous felonies, including Possession of Controlled Substances with Intent to Distribute, Cultivation of Illegal Substances and possible weapons charges.
The personal histories of the Zukowskis are currently unknown. Apparently they came to the Gardner area with the intent to cultivate and process the contraband items. Little did they know that even in what seems a remote location, the long arm of the law could reach out and touch them. The Zukowskis are being held in the Huerfano County Jail with a cash bond of $100,000 each.
During the aerial search of the county, deputies often find patches of marijuana that are not illegal. In this sweep it is said deputies found approximately 150 plants at a county location, but the owner had a permit to grow them for distribution to the marijuana dispensaries. Apparently the state permit does not require them to notify the local sheriff of their operation. In any case, the Sheriff’s office will continue to be vigilant about any operations found in the county.