Fighting Back Against Mexican Drug Cartels

July 22, 2009 6:33:21 PM PDT
The areas used to grow the marijuana are so remote they're not accessible by vehicle. Along the way, investigators found water hoses used by the illegal pot growers. An undercover agent said, "You can see how they hid it with rocks and moss."They are telltale signs of the elaborate watering system. Then there's the campsite, complete with food, a handmade table cobbled together with tree branches, a cell phone charger, a toothbrush and a tent. In a news conference Wednesday afternoon Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said it's just one of the countless sites used by armed Mexican drug cartels growing pot plants in the Sierra Mountains. "They come here, go into our public land, grow the pot and actually live in the gardens."

In the last week and a half hundreds of investigators from 17 local, state and federal agencies raided miles and miles of these gardens in "Operation Save Our Sierra." Sheriff Mims said, "Last year we had 180,000 plants all season from May to November. In one week we have 288,000." Their street value is estimated to be one billion dollars. That's why they're so carefully hidden among Manzanita trees.

George Anderson with the California Department of Justice said, "The bottom line is our public lands are being destroyed by foreign drug trafficking and heavily armed Mexican cartels."

Officers arrested 82 Mexican nationals and promise more to come. The operation's success has even gotten the attention of the White House. A helicopter dropped off the nation's drug czar and the Sheriff to get a firsthand look at one of the pot farms. Afterwards, Gil Kerlikowske applauded the effort. He said, "The planning, the seizure, the arrests and also the prevention programs in the schools and also reclaiming those lands."

"Operation Save Our Sierra" will continue through November. Forty volunteers from the Valley have committed to cleaning up and trying to restore the forest areas destroyed by the pot farms.

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