SAGUACHE COUNTY — Law enforcement sent an unmistakable message to those growing marijuana illegally in the county last week, seizing 1,500-2,000 illegally-grown cannabis plants worth an estimated $5 million, many in full bud, in rural Bonanza Sept. 14.
Saguache County deputy and county code enforcement officer Wayne Clark worked on the investigation for two months and helped secure the warrant. According to Sheriff Dan Warwick, when the Saguache Sheriff’s office was first informed about the grow, several attempts were made to contact the growers. When no one responded, they began an investigation and later worked with DEA and the Southern Colorado Drug Task Force.
The Southern Colorado Drug Task Force is comprised of law enforcement officers from other jurisdictions as well as Colorado State Patrol officers.
Prior to the seizure of the crop, a search warrant was served on six individuals from Quincy, Mass., (Lee Anton, 30 and Lik Chan, 24); Thirten, Ohio (Mi Chen, 50); Dallas, Texas (Ming Deng, 49) and two individuals from Villa Grove (Jiangxiu Hiang, 39 and Yat Chan, 50). All six were charged with various offenses related to marijuana.
Four of the six have since bonded out of the Saguache County Jail and two were placed on an immigration hold. Those on immigration hold were advised of their rights Wednesday and the other four will appear in Saguache County Court on different dates in the future, a court clerk said Tuesday.
Pot removal, citizen comments
Law enforcement officials cut, then hauled the crop in 10-12 pick-up trucks from a remote hillside to Road LL56 in Bonanza, emptying the plants into a dump truck provided by Saguache County Road and Bridge Department. The plants were later taken to an undisclosed location to be destroyed per federal statutes regarding confiscation of drug products. Northern Saguache Ambulance service personnel also were on stand-by.
Warwick congratulated the Bonanza community for cooperating with law enforcement to help make the bust possible. “People don’t want this stuff growing out here,” Warwick said.
One Bonanza citizen related that s/he felt compelled to “just do the right thing” by helping law enforcement seize the crop and halt the grow. The citizen expressed grave concern that marijuana is a gateway drug, endangering young lives.
A law enforcement officer standing nearby confirmed this, commenting the hybridized plants grown today are at least five times stronger than marijuana smoked in the 1960s.
A DEA officer told a bystander that grows like the one in Bonanza are “everywhere” and given the limited number of DEA personnel and the huge number of illegal operations, there is no possible way the agency can address all of them. Sheriff Warwick said illegal grows in the Valley would have been addressed earlier, but former District Attorney David Mahonee would not take the cases to court.
Current District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen has agreed to process those growing marijuana illegally, Warwick said. He noted that a remark made earlier this year at a meeting held to discuss marijuana regulations made him determined to seek out illegal grows in the county and put them out of business.
During that meeting, Warwick related that one individual told him if the sheriff’s office wanted to know what they were growing, to get a search warrant. “So that’s exactly what we did,” Warwick said. “Colorado allows it, but you have to abide by the rules.”