Tip leads cops to $14 million in marijuana

LAWRENCEVILLE - A watchful neighbor who Monday night tipped police to suspicious activity at a Lilburn house led to the seizure of more than 3,000 pounds of marijuana and other drugs.

The concerned citizen called 911 at 9:43 p.m. to report a suspicious box truck backed up to the garage of a house at 258 Greenwood Drive.

"The neighbor said since somebody new moved into the house in the recent past, more vehicles had been coming and going," said Sgt. Tyler Thomas, spokesman for the Lilburn Police Department. "He thought it was a possible burglary. He was just being a good neighbor, calling things in."

When police showed up to investigate, two men unloading the truck ran away into the woods behind the home. The back of the box truck was left open and bales of marijuana were stacked to the ceiling.

After obtaining a search warrant, the Gwinnett County Drug Task Force impounded the drugs and searched the house. They found a total of 3,168 pounds of marijuana with a street value of more than $14 million and two pounds of crystal methamphetamine worth about $102,000.

Police also confiscated a 1999 Ford box truck, 1998 Ford Explorer, 2005 Nissan Altima, 1997 Buick Regal and a semi-automatic handgun. The total value of that property is approximately $37,500.

A helicopter and police tracking dogs searched the area for approximately two hours after the suspects escaped, however police were unable to locate the men. Because it was dark outside when the first responders arrived, officers could only state that the two men appeared to be white or Hispanic.

Thomas said police are still following several leads.

Investigators spent several hours Tuesday unloading the box truck at Gwinnett Police Department headquarters on Hi-Hope Road and examining it for clues.

A detective on the Gwinnett Drug Task Force, who asked not to be identified because he works undercover, said Monday's drug bust was the largest he had ever seen. He said any seizure of more than a few hundred pounds of marijuana is rare.

"We think they were using this as a stash house and there were other stash houses. There are more drugs out there because this truck was only half loaded," the detective said.

The detective also said the marijuana is of good quality and probably came from Mexico.

Thomas described the neighborhood where the drugs were found off U.S. Highway 29 as nice and quiet, saying "there are not a lot of problems."

Willie Sanders has lived on Greenwood Drive in Lilburn for about a year. Sanders said most of the residents on his street are older and he hasn't noticed any suspicious activity.

"It is something to be, in a sense, concerned about, but no matter where you live criminal elements have a way of getting around," Sanders said. "It's just a matter of making sure we secure everything, keeping the doors locked during the daytime. I usually go around and check everything before we lie down for the night."