MIAMI =B7 Neighbors shake their heads in wonder. People
down the street walk by to see the home, gaining a
reputation in the historic Roads neighborhood of Miami
as the site of a mysterious disappearance.

All police know is they can't find the man they
suspect of running an elaborate hydroponics marijuana
lab who went inside the home Tuesday and then
vanished.

Miami police detectives say the man could still be
hunkered down somewhere in the two-story duplex. But,
more likely, he escaped through a maze of shallow
underground tunnels.

Police have tear-gassed the property, at 655 SW 19th
Rd., but the man has not come out. They tried to send
in a police dog but he could not fit through the
tunnels, no more than two feet deep. Police officers
were sent in, but have been unable to follow where the
maze might lead.

"We may well have a tunnel that leads two blocks
down," said Officer Herminia Salas-Jacobson.

What they have found so far is 122 marijuana plants
worth $300,000 on the streets and an intricate system
used in growing the lucrative plant.

Several rooms in the first floor were set up for
cultivation in water, then drying, Salas-Jacobson
said. Police found ladders in the closets leading to
the second floor and a generator, probably used so the
amount of electricity used on the property would go
unnoticed, she said.

"It's quite interesting," said Salas-Jacobson, who
said it's the most elaborate pot house she has
encountered.

Detectives working in the area were told of a funny
smell coming from the home and tried to approach a man
who was coming out of there Tuesday when the man went
back inside and disappeared.

"He was very nervous and pushed one of the officers,"
Salas-Jacobson said.

An officer followed the man inside, but lost him when
he went upstairs to a second floor and disappeared.
Police surrounded the home and asked the SWAT team to
come out, thinking the man was hiding.

They have yet to find him.

In a neighborhood favored by Miami's elite and
influential, neighbors wondered how they could have
lived so close to a marijuana lab without a clue about
what was going on inside.

Police would not release the names of the people who
own the home, saying they're not sure about the
identity of the person they are looking for or whether
he may have rented the home. County property records
list the owners as Elvia and Jeannette Meza, but
indicate that they may rent it out. They could not be
reached for comment.

"I never would have though that there would be such a
thing right next door," said Isabel Fiallo. "This is
like a movie. I'd like to know how they made those
tunnels."

She said she saw four men coming in and out of the
house at strange hours, but thought their work
schedules varied. When she saw them with what looked
like medical gowns, she figured they might have worked
in a hospital, she said. Fiallo said she occasionally
waved at her neighbors, but never really spoke with
them.

"No one would have imagined this," she said.

Carmen Lombana said she didn't know what to think when
she saw a SWAT team descend on her neighborhood,
climbing on people's cars and rooftops.

"It's usually very quiet around here," she said.

By Diana Marrero
Miami Bureau, Miami Sun-Sentinel
January 24, 2002