Visalia police seize 2,700 pot plants as officers see rise in illegal indoor grows

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- In late April, a Visalia police officer was at a home improvement store buying some supplies needed for an investigation into illegal marijuana grows in the city, when he spotted something suspicious.

"While at this local home improvement warehouse, he did notice that there was an individual there purchasing supplies or materials that we know to be associated with how these individuals modify homes for illegal cannabis grow purposes," Visalia Police Lt. Osvaldo Dominguez said.

In the parking lot, the officer wrote down the license plate number of the man's car.

The very next day, police were serving search warrants for illegal marijuana grows when they came across the same vehicle outside of another home nearby.

Another search warrant was authorized for that house and police arrested a handful of people who were setting up a new grow operation, including the man from the store.

On Tuesday, police went looking for him again during two more search warrants at homes in Northwest Visalia.

Police couldn't track down their suspect, but they did find a lot more marijuana being grown illegally at a large two-story home on West Brooke Avenue.

Police seized more than 2,700 plants.

"Unfortunately, we're finding more and more of these residential cannabis grow houses here in town," Dominguez said. "The activity is not restricted to any neighborhood or any type of neighborhood. We see these types of operations in well-established areas, older neighborhoods, higher-end neighborhoods, new home construction."

Dominguez says indoor grows often involve the theft of electricity. Other times, the suspects simply pay expensive bills to the utility company.

He says it's common for every corner of a grow house to be used for cultivation purposes.

"You have full additional ventilation systems installed inside, you have additional electrical equipment, so you have subpanels, additional wiring, none of this is done up to code," he explained.

Cannabis may be legal in California, but Dominguez says illegal grows such as the one on Brooke Avenue are concerning on multiple levels.

They cause damage to the homes, create a high risk for fire, and could potentially become a target for other criminals.

The investigation surrounding Tuesday's search warrants is ongoing.

Charges are pending against the main suspect, and police say the search warrants could lead them to other locations or other suspects.
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