Pot 'grow house' operation busted, feds say

Published September 21, 2006

PORT ST. LUCIE - Authorities said Wednesday they have broken up a marijuana cultivation ring in which people were recruited to operate more than 50 "grow houses" producing thousands of plants.

More than 35 people have been arrested and 4,000 pounds of marijuana seized since the investigation began in May, according to federal prosecutors, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and local police. Authorities didn't give an estimated total value of the seized drugs.

The scheme involved financiers in New Jersey who offered people "relocation packages" featuring 100 percent financing for homes in the Port St. Lucie area, officials said. The homes allegedly were converted into marijuana grow houses, which the homeowners agreed to operate for two years.

At the end of the two years, a homeowner could either sell the place and split the profits with the New Jersey financiers or keep growing pot.

The homeowner received about $1,000 of the $4,000 value of a harvested marijuana plant, with each home yielding between $136,000 and $1.3-million per harvest, said Miami U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta.

"We have effectively dismantled a well-organized and well-financed marijuana grow house operation, with tentacles that stretched from South Florida to New York," Acosta said. "But we are not done yet."

Most of the arrests detailed Wednesday involved people who allegedly were caretakers of grow houses in Port St. Lucie, some with children living in the homes.