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Another marijuana 'grow house' raided in Hall County

POSTED: April 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

When federal authorities last August announced the indictments of 25 defendants of mostly Cuban descent in connection with a large-scale marijuana "grow house" operation, it was thought that the organization had been dismantled.

But with the discovery of another such grow house in South Hall on Friday, it appears there are a few more out there, authorities said.

The upscale house raided on Scenic View Drive in Flowery Branch had all the earmarks of the operation, Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad commander Scott Ware said.

Power had been illegally diverted from Jackson EMC to provide the massive amounts of electricity needed to power 24-hour ultraviolet grow lights. The walls of the basement were lined with Mylar to act as a reflectant. Inside, agents found 34 large marijuana plants.

It was at least the 56th such grow house located in Georgia since February 2007, when Fayette County sheriff’s officials raided the home of suspected ringleader Merquiades Martinez, a 36-year-old Cuban national. In February 2007, Hall County narcotics agents raided upscale grow houses connected to the ring in the Georgian Acres subdivision and on Benefield Road in South Hall.

Unlike those raids, in which the homes were abandoned, local authorities made arrests this week.

Daniel Edel Martinez-Riverol, 37, and Juanita Vargas, 44, both Cuban nationals from Miami, were charged with manufacturing and trafficking marijuana, Ware said. The two were caught unawares inside the house, which was barely furnished. Authorities were uncertain whether they were living there or only tending to the plants.

Ware acknowledged that finding new grow houses that appeared to be connected to the Martinez operation more than a year later was surprising.

"As much publicity as there was, I think it was kind of a brazen move to start it up again," Ware said.

Local officials received a tip from a metro Atlanta drug task force that the house might have been used for growing marijuana, Ware said. When agents first checked the house a few months ago, it was abandoned, he said. They continued monitoring the location until activity picked up.

The number of plants was relatively low compared with previous seizures. The two houses raided last February contained a combined 288 plants.

Ware said the federal Drug Enforcement Administration had been notified and that the case may be referred for federal prosecution.



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