CLAY COUNTY, Fla. -- Five people have been arrested in the largest marijuana grow operation bust the county has seen in years.
All five arrested are Cuban nationals in the country legally, but are not citizens, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Office. Among those arrested were:
- Jamie Mora, 39
- Yandriel Gonzalez, 23
- Raluxi Erbiti, 37
- Antonio Santos, 26
- Jonny Gordillo Valdespino, 32
All the men are charged with Cultivation of Marijuana, according to CCSO arrest reports, and Gordillo Valdespino and Mora are additionally charged with Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Sell.
Ashley Crater lives next door to the reported underground marijuana operation that was one of four grow houses in Clay County. She says the week leading up to the bust, stench of marijuana was overwhelming.
"I'd get light headed you'd feel kind of nauseous and stuff it was very overpowering and I wouldn't let my son come out," said Crater.
But before the arrests, Crater says no one suspected any illegal activity.
"I figured that he owned his own business when we first moved in, you heard sometimes banging around like renovations and stuff but that was about it," said Crater.
The construction is what police say kept these five men under the radar. They owned tractors in which they allegedly purchased to burry two forty-foot cargo containers. Police say the men tapped into a live 15-thousand volt power line to steal electricity from Clay Electric for the grow houses. They had 'elaborate electrical and cooling systems' running into the underground bunkers.
"When you can do this underground growing like this, controlling the lights, controlling the water the fertilizer you can get an extremely high grade marijuana," said Sheriff Rick Beseler, Clay County Sheriff's Office.
Police seized 216 marijuana plants from the four locations in Middleburg -- Candlewood Court, Valor Court, Fireweed Court and Guava Court, totaling a street value of 864-thousand dollars.
"What these individuals did over the last three years or so if come to Clay County, purchase residential property that were in foreclosure, they never actually resided in these residences but instead turned them into indoor growing operations," said Sheriff Beseler.
Detectives do not believe the five men were actually living in Clay County for an extended amount of time. Investigators began working on the case after a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in South Florida conducted a traffic stop and noticed unusual equipment then tipped off the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The plants were high-grade marijuana, which yields one pound per plant, according to CCSO Public Affairs Coordinator Mary Justino. Such marijuana yields $4,000 to $5,000 per pound.
Also seized were six pounds of processed marijuana, a Ford pickup truck, $1,800 in cash and three grocery bags of marijuana "shake."
First Coast News