Drug case moving forward
5 local men among 25 grow house indictments

ATLANTA - Five men were indicted on federal charges Tuesday, accused of operating two marijuana grow houses in Loganville and Winder.

The men were five of 25 people indicted on charges of cultivating 44 grow houses in 14 Georgia counties.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the investigation included Barrow, Butts, Coweta, Fayette, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Jackson, Jasper, Jones, Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties.

According to the indictment, 8,638 plants yielding about one pound of marijuana each and 2,279 pounds of processed marijuana were seized in 44 grow houses in a sting operation.

"This is as complex a scheme as we have ever seen in Georgia when it comes to mass growth of indoor, hydroponic marijuana," U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said.

Last winter, Barrow County sheriff's deputies and agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations seized millions of dollars worth of marijuana plants, cash and cars from six reported grow houses in Barrow County.

Meriquiades Martinez, 36, of Fayetteville, and Stanley Castillo, 41, of Miami, Fla., were indicted Tuesday on charges related to growing and storing at least 100 marijuana plants at 607 Raleigh Court in Winder.

Juan Carlos Martin-Lopez, 38, of Loganville and Gerson Carranza, 26, of Monroe were indicted on charges related to operating a marijuana grow house at 4000 Hollow Springs Trail in Loganville.

Juan Guevarra-Milian, 37, of Hialeah, Fla., was indicted on charges related to running a grow house at 981 High Tide Trail in Loganville.

The marijuana was found growing in hydroponic basement gardens using a nutrient solution instead of soil. Electrical meters were bypassed to use the massive amounts of electricity needed to run the gardens without alerting authorities to the large quantities of power stolen.

The investigation began in February after authorities received a tip that a Miami grow house operation had moved to Georgia. According to the indictment, Martinez and Martin-Lopez ran the operation. Carranza and Blanca Botello, 35, of Fayetteville were real estate agents accused of helping purchase the homes that were converted into grow houses. Botello also owned a hydroponics business used to purchase and distribute equipment for the grow houses, according to a statement released by Nahmias.

The remaining defendants either owned the grow houses - homes costing $300,000 to $500,000, authorities said - or vehicles used to distribute the marijuana, or helped grow or process the drugs. Many of the defendants are related by blood or marriage and most are legal U.S. residents, Nahmias said.

"This was a great collaborative effort between state and federal prosecuting agencies," said Barrow County's Chief Deputy Maj. Murray Kogod.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.