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Marijuana Bust 20 Years Ago Intriguing Piece Of Area History

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Ask around and what New York Mills is best known for is Lund Boats, girls basketball of the 1970s and '80s, and the biggest marijuana bust, at the time, in state history. Twenty years later and the famous drug bust still comes up in conversation, with locals joking and carrying the state's largest marijuana bust of 1987 as a sort of badge of honor for the community.

Boats. Basketball. Drug Bust.

Twenty years ago last week -- Oct. 24, 1987 -- law enforcement agents raided a farm north of New York Mills and seized 20 tons of marijuana with an estimated street value of $20 million. According to newspaper reports at the time those figures later doubled to 40 tons and $40 million after federal officials seized the farm and fields.

Arrested and taken into custody were 17 people, all from Kentucky, who purchased and moved on to the farm about six months prior to the big bust.

Agents seized the marijuana in barns, silos and storage sheds. Authorities also found mature, uncultivated marijuana plants in a nearby field. According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, officers "searched the farm area and discovered a highly sophisticated growing and packaging system."

There were "No Trespassing" signs, men in camouflage carrying guns and guard dogs at the farm, making sure nobody wandered onto the property. These good ol' boys from Kentucky weren't real neighborly, and in the end, that's what did them in. Neighbors became suspicious of all the secrecy and odd behavior, with nobody allowed on the property and vehicles coming and going in the middle of the night.

A story in the NY Mills Herald said the arrests followed about a week of investigation by the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

A number of people in the neighborhood, who asked not to be identified at the time, said that the volume of traffic in and out of the farm, at odd times day and night, was one of the more unusual occurrences.

Also noted was a tendency of the farm's residents, when returning, to drive past the property then double back. "When someone drove into their yard, it looked like there were people ducking and hiding," said one neighbor in a Herald story that year. "As the summer went on, the farm's residents added more security devices, including a trip wire at the end of the drive that would trigger an alarm if someone drove in."

That kind of behavior draws attention in rural Minnesota where people need to know their neighbors' business.

Alan "Lindy" Linda, who had the hardware store in town in 1987, went out on regular service calls and remembers despite the bust and what was being grown on the farm, some of the neighbors didn't have real negative reactions to the Kentucky crew growing marijuana. The fact the new residents weren't real friendly seemed, in Lindy's opinion, to bother local farmers more than what the farmers were growing.

"Leading up to the bust was more of an accumulative thing. They didn't shop in town. They didn't go to church in town. And they didn't buy building materials in town," Lindy said.

The Big Bust

The bust went with law enforcement using the Trojan horse technique. The agents rolled up on the farm in a pickup pulling a trailer that held hidden agents. Thirteen law enforcement officials were in on the initial bust, including the BCA, Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office, New York Mills and Fergus Falls police, and the Department of Natural Resources.

A man and a woman were apprehended immediately. The other suspects fled and were rounded up over the course of several hours. All suspects arrested were wearing survival-type army fatigues, and some had weapons.

Raymond Lee of New York Mills was a senior in high school in 1987 and working for his dad, Don Lee. They were called on by law enforcement to haul the marijuana to a nearby field where the pot was burned. Raymond and Don hauled 64 loads of marijuana from the barn and other buildings to the field where it was burned. The marijuana already packaged was kept by the Otter Tail County Sheriff's Department, for use as evidence. Law enforcement officials estimated that the plants still standing in the field equaled the amount of the drug that was burned. The plants left in the field were destroyed by plowing them under.

Raymond worked with the agents to clean up the farm and recalls the barn had wires strung from side to side with marijuana hung on the wires to dry. He said the drug farmers used a trash compactor to put the weed in cubes, which were then wrapped in cellophane. Buildings were full, silos were full, everywhere the pot could be stored.

Then, Raymond recalls, when they figured the farm was pretty well cleaned out and all the pot rounded up someone discovered a couple large mounds covered with tarps behind the barn. They looked like regular compost piles, but low and behold, it was more marijuana.

Pot Growers

The 17 Kentucky residents arrested in Minnesota's largest marijuana raid pleaded for leniency in May of 1988 before a federal judge sentenced them to terms ranging from 20 years to six months.

"We're just good ol' country folk and we're not trying to do nobody no harm," a 22-year-old defendant said before the judge sentenced her to five years in prison.

Many defendants cited economic hardship and unemployment as the motive for becoming hands on the 275-acre marijuana farm. The defendants grew an estimated 48 tons of marijuana -- about 96,000 plants worth an estimated $40 million -- interspersed with corn.

The group's leader, John Robert Boon, 44, of Springfield, Kentucky, received the largest sentence of 20 years. Federal prison records show he was released in 2002. Before being sentenced, Boone argued that 20 years was too much time for growing marijuana.

The story drew media attention from around the region. It was a compelling story of drugs, guns and rural America.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead ran an editorial a few days after the bust.

All in all, the marijuana processors made such a fuss about trying to stay invisible they became the talk of every bar and coffee shop in the region.

There are few secrets in rural Minnesota. It's no surprise the big illegal pot-processing venture, complete with unfriendly "farmers" and guard dogs, was exposed and destroyed.

Source: Detroit Lakes Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2007 Forum Communications Co.
Contact: mbrenk@dlnewspapers.com
Website: DL-Online
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