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Business park goes to pot
Lathrop Police raid $1 million operation
Pot-warehouse-DSC 04931
Sheriffs detective Eddie Villagomez walks out of one of five rooms filled with growing marijuana plants Monday morning with the grow valued at $675,000 for more than 800 plants in varying degrees of development. - photo by GLENN KAHL

LATHROP — A Lathrop business park in the Crossroads Commerce Center tucked up against the Highway 120 Bypass and Interstate 5 has gone to pot - literally.

Lathrop Police discovered a sophisticated marijuana growing operation in two suites of the D’Arcy Business Park to the northeast of In-n-Out Burger’s distribution center after responding to a predawn burglary. The entire operation was valued at over $1 million, according to deputies.

It included sophisticated mercury lighting and ventilating systems along with drip irrigation tubing leading  to more than 800 plants.

Varying in size from seedlings to mature three and four-foot-high plants, the actual grow was  valued at $675,000 in the front two suites of the D’Arcy Business Park at 17500 Murphy Parkway across the street from the Food-4-Less corporate offices and distribution center.

Sheriff’s public information officer Deputy Les Garcia said the City of Lathrop had no record of anyone ever inhabiting the building.  Neighboring business owners estimated the occupants as having been at the site  for about four months noting they kept to themselves.

Lathrop Police Service deputies were called at 5:30 a.m. by an anonymous person who said there had been an apparent burglary at the business with a small window being broken out to the left of its side glass door.  A trail of potting soil and one marijuana leaf were found outside the smashed window.

A black Toyota 4-Runner SUV that had been parked by an adjacent business had two of its tires flattened giving rise that burglars were looking for a guarantee that they wouldn’t be followed by whoever else was in the complex.

Blacked out front and side windows hid surveillance cameras that were believed to have been installed to allow the operation to be aware of anyone approaching the building from a remote location.  Witnesses in the area said the tenants were on the roof of the complex Sunday night creating a lot of noise – not aware of what they were actually doing.

Deputies stood as sentries for several hours outside the newly built complex Monday morning while detectives secured search warrants to investigate the premises after patrol officers had initially entered the facility to clear the building of anyone who might have been hiding on the premises.

Packaging & processing marijuana on premises

Garcia said that the two suites that were involved were behind commercial-sized roll-up doors on the south side of the building.  On the easternmost suite there were three 8X10-foot rooms with fans, some 20 industrial lights mounted above the five ceilings and drip irrigation systems operating.  The second suite to the west had two rooms with identical equipment.

He added that a lobby that faced one of the doors contained a large table surrounded by chairs indicating that someone had been producing and packaging harvested leaves and buds for sale and distribution.

The Sheriff’s spokesman added that with the obvious sophistication and size of the grow, it didn’t appear that the responsible parties were growing the marijuana simply for their own medical uses with a doctor’s letter.  He added that law enforcement today has to be so careful not to violate the law in confiscating the marijuana.

A three-day notice for the occupants to pay back rent or vacate the building was taped to the glass door from the owners, the San Joaquin Developers, LLC, located on Pirrone Road in Salida.   The amount due for 90 days ending Oct. 31 – with an added late payment – amounted to $14,350.

The tenants were listed as R&D PR Group, Inc. and were given the option to pay their back rent only in cash, money order, cashier’s check or certified check.  The group had reportedly explained earlier that they were in business to repair commercial computer servers.  Neighbors in the complex said the tenants would be seen and heard working in the building all hours of the day and night adding that when they reported to work early in the morning there was often a strong odor in the air like someone had hit a skunk on the road.

Deputy Garcia added that there is a suspicion that the electrical power may have come from bypassing the PG&E system or have come from thefts of neighboring businesses. 

“We’re still looking for the power source,” he said. “The lighting, as well as the ventilation, draws a heavy burden on electricity.”

Garcia said it is his understanding that the identification of the names of the leasing parties were fictitious so the investigation is ongoing. 

“The indicators that people were not being truthful makes it less likely that it was a legal operation,” the Sheriff’s spokesman said.  “If it were a legitimate business you would think they would be on the up and up, providing their identity as well are having the permitting documents.”

He pointed out that the federal government has made their position known in not allowing marijuana growing operations.  Garcia stressed that the local and the state levels of the law and of enforcement have to all get on the same page to be effective.

 “If that occurs, we can be in a position to deal with things like this, because what we are looking for is the quality of life for our citizens in San Joaquin County as well as in the City of Lathrop,” he said.

Marijuana crime on upswing

Garcia added that economic times are tough and some people are looking for quick cash in their pockets.  That is obviously available by selling drugs and marijuana – the latter often finding lesser consequences for their actions.

The deputy added that it is becoming more of a concern in law enforcement.   Garcia noted that just in the past week the Sheriff’s Office has experienced two home invasion robberies where marijuana was the key issue thieves focused on.  Armed suspects showed up south of Lathrop and in Escalon where the marijuana product and cash were their focus.

Six armed men entered a home in the 3500 block of West Yosemite Avenue in rural Lathrop with guns drawn about 6:30 Thursday night and tied up a man wanting the marijuana from his home grow along with any cash he might have acquired.  They were all finally captured and are presently in San Joaquin County Jail with bail set for five of them over $1 million

On Sunday afternoon Orlando Garcia, 32, who lives on Mariposa Road in Escalon, had allegedly set up a buy at his residence to sell some of his medical marijuana to two Hispanic male subjects, each  described as approximately 28 years old.

As the men sped away from his residence in a light blue pickup truck, they reportedly exchanged fire with Garcia whose 16-year-old stepson was hit in the upper body by one of the rounds.  They escaped and Garcia was arrested and jailed for his involvement, charged with seven felonies from marijuana cultivation to child abuse.  Bail was set at $405,000.   Deputies said his mother, mother-in-law and other children were all present in the home.

Just this week officers in Stanislaus County and the City of Ceres have reportedly identified Mexican Cartel operatives at work in similar marijuana production and distribution activities working their way up the valley.

Garcia said the Sheriff’s Office is aware of the ever growing  trend to produce and sell marijuana and it is addressing the issue. 

“We have our Metro Narcotics officers who work closely with our Lathrop Police Services as well as with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the Stockton Police Department,” he said.