You could have hit the indoor marijuana growing operation on Crom Street with a dodgeball.
Literally. That’s because the house that the Manteca Police Street Crimes Unit raided on Wednesday morning was just 150 feet away from Stella Brockman Elementary School. Officers pulled more than 300 pot plants and a pound of processed marijuana from the residence that had been completely overhauled specifically for its illegal purpose.
And immediately after the detectives arrested the house’s two occupants – 27-year-old Trieu Vo and 38-year-old Vinny Tran, both of San Jose – they called up the Manteca Code Enforcement Officer and PG&E out of fear that the makeshift power-stealing operation could go up in flames at any time.
Crews that responded cut the power to the house and later determined that more than $20,000 worth of power had been hijacked by illegally bypassing the electrical monitoring box outside the home. Inside a series of extension cords and outlet boxes nailed to a wall provided the juice needed to power the potent lights required to trick the pot plants into thinking they were outdoors. An air filtration system sent the potent smell up through the roof ducts to avoid detection.
According to Manteca Police Department Lt. Tony Souza, grow houses like the one shut down on Wednesday have become more elaborate in recent years not only in their scope – which includes removing portions of the inside of the home to make room for growing equipment – but also in attempts to make it seem like nothing out of the ordinary is going on.
Occupants, Souza said, often make attempts at coming and going during normal hours so neighbors don’t suspect anything. They have gone as far as to install electronic light timers to give the impression that people are home even when they aren’t.
The theft of electricity, he said, can be extremely dangerous not only for those living in the grow house but for the unsuspecting as well.
“There was definitely a potential for a fire hazard that could have jeopardized that house and other houses in the area,” Souza said. “There’s an extremely high yield on those plants when it comes to money because they have multiple grow seasons in a single year when they’re indoors.
“But what concerned us was the proximity. That was alarming.”
Later that same night, detectives served a search warrant at the suspect’s houses in San Jose and discovered another six pounds of marijuana that was already packaged and ready for sale. Altogether the processed pot, the 328 plants and the equipment used to grow it were valued at somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000 – not counting the house.
Both men are being held at the San Joaquin County Jail on charges of marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, theft of utilities, keeping a place to sell controlled substances and conspiracy to commit a crime. Bail for each of the men is set at $250,000. A bail hearing to ensure that no portion of the money posted is obtained illegally is also required before they can be released.