The largest marijuana growing operation ever uncovered in Manteca involving five separate grow houses — one backing up to Joshua Cowell School in Manteca, two in San Jose, and one each in Modesto and Elk Grove — was taken down Thursday.
The bust was made possible thanks to a Manteca resident who took the time to report suspicious activity to police. That allowed officers to start an investigation that led to the seizure of 915 marijuana plants alone at the Manteca location.
The investigation led by the Manteca Police Street Crimes Unit headed by Sgt. Chris Mraz initially centered on a two-story home in the 1900 block of Inderbitzen Way in the northeast section of the community. The investigation eventually tied into four other grow houses.
The Manteca home had at least eight of its rooms dedicated to growing pot from seedlings to mature grows including the kitchen. They used high intensity lights and powerful fans that filtered the smell of the operation so that neighbors wouldn’t become suspicious of the illegal activity next door.
In addition to the Manteca/Ripon SWAT team, Elk Grove and San Jose activated their SWAT units as well to serve search warrants on the five grow locations, according to a Manteca Police spokesman.
Due to the magnitude of the operation literally every other unit in the police department, along with the Elk Grove Police Department, the Santa Clara County Specialized Enforcement Team and the San Joaquin County Delta Ratt team assisted with additional personnel.
The marijuana grow locations included the 1900 block of Inderbitzen Way in Manteca, The 1100 block of Creston Lane in San Jose, the 9500 block of Blue Thistle Way in Elk Grove, the 100 block of Grandwell Way in San Jose and the 700 block of Rouse Avenue in Modesto.
915 pot plants found
in home next to
Cowell School playground
Sgt. Mraz said the investigation began with an anonymous tip of suspicious activity in Manteca by a concerned resident. An investigation led to the discovery of a large scale criminal drug operation ranging from Elk Grove to San Jose and including Manteca and Modesto. Three of the houses searched were large scale conversions from residences to indoor marijuana grow operations. A total of 915 plants were found growing in the Manteca neighborhood with PG&E power bypassed around the electric meter.
Due to severe electrical hazard potential, the power utility and a Manteca code enforcement officer responded to make the residences safe for investigators. Power was being stolen with at least several thousands of dollars in losses. The drug house in Manteca backed up to Joshua Cowell School’s playground. Five suspects identified during the investigation were taken into custody.
Arrested was Binh V. Lam, 38, of San Jose for violations of marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, operating a drug house, and criminal conspiracy.
Also arrested was Nga T. Dang, 42, of San Jose for possession of methamphetamine precursors, being a felon in possession of a firearm, armed in the commission of drug crimes, possession of stolen property, marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, operating a drug house, and criminal conspiracy.
In the Modesto operation Noel M. Vaca, 34, was arrested for violations including marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, theft of utilities, criminal conspiracy, armed during drug crimes and possession of stolen property.
Also in Modesto Uriel M. Castro, 39, was arrested for marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, being armed during drug crimes, theft of utilities, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possession of stolen property and criminal conspiracy.
Thuylan T. Huynh, 35, of San Jose was arrested for numerous violations including marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of methamphetamine for sale, operating a drug house and criminal conspiracy.
All five suspects are scheduled to appear in the Manteca Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court on Feb. 22 at 1:30 p.m. Binh Van Lam is being held in lieu of $365, 000 in bail. Nga T. Dang has bail set at $590,000 and Noel Magdan Vaca is being held in lieu of $120,000 bail. Uriel Magadan Castro is being held without bail with an outstanding warrant from the Madera Sheriff’s Department with a related revocation of his probation. Thuylan Thi Huynh is being held in lieu of $ 265,000 bail.
950 plants seized in
Manteca 43 days ago
Thursday’s bust came 43 days after Manteca Police seized 950 marijuana plants growing in a home in the 1100 block of Primavera Avenue in west Manteca.
That Jan. 7 seizure led to the arrest of Denny Kusnadi, 44, and Susanna Laij, 39, both of Manteca for numerous violations including cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for sale, transportation of marijuana, theft of utility services amounting to some $14,000 and criminal conspiracy.
In a five-month period ending Nov. 30, 2015, the Manteca Police Street Crimes Unit investigated multiple grows in excess of 100 plants including one that exceeded 700 plants. One of the grows yielded more than a ton of marijuana. Altogether more than 7,000 pounds of marijuana were seized during the five-month period.
Marijuana, depending upon its quality fetches between $1,000 and $3,000 a pound. A conservative estimate puts the value at $2,000 a pound meaning Manteca Police has seized marijuana approaching $20 million in value in less than seven months.
Manteca have noted there have been five significant violent incidents involving the illegal growing or use of pot since 2010 in Manteca including three violent deaths.
In 2010, there was a home invasion targeting marijuana where four people were hurt.
In 2014, marijuana was involved with a party with a number of teens and children where an 11-year-od was shot and killed.
In 2015 there were two violent deaths in separate incidents involving marijuana including a home invasion where a man was shot and killed by suspects looking to steal marijuana.
uLast year armed robbers attacked a man delivering 11 pounds of marijuana.
Mraz has noted that much of the illegal grows in Manteca appear to be supplying legal pot dispensaries in the Bay Area.