Cops bust more pot operations

SNELLVILLE - Gwinnett County police seized another batch of marijuana plants Thursday evening and arrested five more people in connection with growing and trafficking the drug.

This is the fourth home in the county where the plants have been found this week, and more busts could come soon.

"We are currently following up on vast amounts of intel," Gwinnett County Police Department spokesman Cpl. Darren Moloney said. "More marijuana seizures of 'grow houses' are pending."

With the help of the Snellville Police Department, authorities confiscated more than 500 marijuana plants and arrested five people at 2851 Creekwood Drive in Snellville Thursday, Moloney said.

He said the search was the result of ongoing arrests and seizures in metro Atlanta.

The basement of the Creekwood Drive home had been redesigned specifically to grow and manufacture marijuana, Moloney said.

"This design included special lighting, walls, electricity, water recycling system, modified ventilation system and an advanced hydroponics system," he added.

Police arrested 51-year-old Raul Prado, Alfredo Hernandez, 33, 39-year-old Blanca Prado, 51-year-old Carlos Perez-Martinez and Carlos Luis-Perez, 32, about 5 p.m. Thursday.

The exact amount of plants seized is unknown but Moloney said the plants are easily worth millions of dollars.

Moloney said search warrants for the home were obtained Thursday and those arrested are charged with felony trafficking and felony manufacturing marijuana.

The relationship between those allegedly behind the drug grow houses is unknown Moloney said, but police believe Perez-Martinez is the father of Luis-Perez. He added it is unknown whether any of those arrested were living in the home.

Moloney said authorities believe the five are originally from Colombia, and their legal status in the United States is unknown.

Neither of the five have been incarcerated at the Gwinnett County Detention Center before, Moloney added.

Police said the Snellville home operation is similar to the alleged growing systems discovered in three other homes in the county earlier in the week.

Eduardo Rodriguez, 43, and Jose Felipe-Bruno, 35 of Hialeah, Fla., and Jorge Gonzalez-Sanchez, 36, of Cape Coral, Fla., were arrested Monday and Tuesday. The men were charged in connection with the growth of approximately 500 plants at a lab in the basement of 2350 Friars Gate Drive in Lawrenceville.

After searching the residence, officers found the plants, an irrigation system, buckets filled with the growing plants, hydroponic beans and a lighting system for the plants. Moloney said the seizure was part of an ongoing investigation with the Barrow County Sheriffs Office Narcotics Unit, the Hall County Sheriff's Office Multi Agency Narcotics Unit and the Fayette County Sheriff's Office Multi Agency Drug Suppression Task Force.

Moloney said the plants seized from the Friars Gate Drive home have a value of more than $2 million and more than 15,000 grams (about 34 pounds) of marijuana ready for distribution with a street value of about $153,000.

Each man was charged with felony trafficking marijuana and felony manufacturing marijuana, according to the warrants for their arrest.

Sheriff's deputies raided two similar homes about 6 p.m. Wednesday, finding more potted marijuana plants. Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, Stacey Bourbonnais said no arrests have been made in connection with the raids at 2485 Luke Edwards Road or 2921 Michelle Lee Drive in Dacula Wednesday.

Deputies said homes recently busted are commonly ranch houses with full basements.

Moloney said the homes are part of an elaborate, well organized drug run.

"These homes are connected," Moloney said. "This whole case is unusual; everything is well organized - the hydroponic lab, the lighting."

He said the sentence for a anyone convicted of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute is incarceration with no less than one and no more than 10 years.

Jail time for trafficking the drug, Moloney added, varies. Trafficking of 10 to 2,000 pounds carries a mandatory minimum incarceration of five years and a fine of $100,000.