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Plants Seized In Dixie Forest

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Washington County Utah — Narcotics detectives took advantage of Warren Jeffs' high-security helicopter flight to court Thursday. The officers used the Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter to aid them in finding a marijuana farm growing here, seizing more than 2,280 plants with a street value of up to $10 million.

After the FLDS leader was safely dropped off at the 5th District Courthouse Thursday morning for his trial, agents with the Washington County Drug Task Force used the helicopter to fly over parts of the Dixie National Forest. From the air was the only way they could discover acres of marijuana plants growing near campgrounds just miles from the communities of Leeds and Silver Reef.

"This one looks to be at least three years old," said Lt. Scott Staley, commander of the drug task force.

Around him, federal drug enforcement agents, local police and search and rescue teams were bringing in bags of marijuana plants.

The area is ideal for growing marijuana. In the mountains, it is difficult to see the plants from the ground. Off in the distance, red-rock mesas lead to Zion National Park.

"The climate's perfect for it," Staley said. "It's a little high up so it's not too hot, and there's water here."

It's fall and it's about harvest time, he said. Drug agents found sites where marijuana was being processed. There were also some areas being cleared, evidently for the marijuana farm to expand.

Police are looking for as many as six men who may have been tending the marijuana garden. The men fled when the helicopters flying overhead spotted the plants. They left behind beds, a canopy shelter, propane bottles, car batteries and plenty of food.

"They live there," Staley said.

The men, believed to be Latino, live for months in the mountains, camping here and tending to the marijuana plants. While authorities don't know much about the men tending this particular garden, other marijuana farm busts have revealed illegal immigrants forced to work in an often dangerous profession.

That was the case in September 2006, when Garfield County authorities broke up a 5,400-acre pot farm near Bryce Canyon. One of the farmers, an illegal immigrant from Mexico named Juan Carlos Hernandez-Garcia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced earlier this year to three years in federal prison.

"I was promised about $150 per day for my services," Garcia wrote in a statement pleading guilty to a federal marijuana cultivation charge.

Garcia's lawyer claims he never got any money for the work and had no means to leave. Staley said he has heard of other pot farms where illegal immigrants' families are threatened if they don't tend the plants.

The people running the farm will also do what it takes to keep people away, raising the level of danger to people camping, hiking and recreating on public lands. A U.S. Forest Service investigator told the Deseret Morning News last year that the Bryce Canyon marijuana farm may have had ties to the Mexican mafia.

"It's very dangerous," Staley said Thursday. "They're posing a threat to everyone using these lands."

This is the second marijuana farm that has been broken up in less than a week in southern Utah. Washington County Sheriff's deputies busted up a pot farm on Sept. 7 near New Harmony. There, they seized more than 1,000 plants with a street value of up to $5 million.

A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice said marijuana farms are an increasing problem on federal lands. They have been pushing into Arizona, New Mexico and southern Utah.

In 2004, authorities raided a site in Washington County's Pine Valley, seizing more than 1,500 plants.

News Hawk- User http://www.420Magazine.com
Source: Deseret Morning News
Author: Ben Winslow
Contact: bwinslow@desnews.com
Copyright: Deseret Morning News
Website: Marijuana plants seized from Dixie forest
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