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$26 Million Pot Grow Discovered in Los Padres

Independent 21 April 2009

Drew Mackie

Following the raid of a marijuana growing operation in Los Padres National Forest on Friday, two men are being held in Santa Maria Jail and two campers are likely breathing sighs of relief following a run-in with allegedly armed pot farmers. In the end, the Santa Barbara Sheriff and the U.S. Forest Service confiscated around 13,300 marijuana plants, the collective street value of which was estimated around $26 million.

The incident began when two campers, who had been staying at the Aliso Park area west of New Cuyama, stumbled upon the illegal plants. According to a report by Sheriff's spokesperson Andrew Sugars, the campers were then approached by two Hispanic men who requested that the campers not leave until the arrival of their boss, who spoke English. Becoming suspicious of the situation, the campers packed up their gear and attempted to leave. On the way out, they passed a truck headed the opposite direction. The truck stopped and a man waved to the fleeing campers. When the campers did not stop, the driver returned to his vehicle and began pursuing, at times coming “dangerously close to the campers' vehicle,” Sugars noted.

The campers nonetheless made it to safety and contracted law enforcement. Shortly thereafter, an officer from the Taft Police Department spotted a truck matching the description of the one the campers described, stopped the vehicle, and took the two occupants into custody. The campers positively identified the two as the men who chased them. Officers consequently arrested the men, whom Sugars identified as 40-year-old Maywood, California, resident Javier Barragan and 38-year-old Paramount, California, resident Jose Lopez. A search of their car revealed five high-powered rifles equipped with rifle scopes as well as ammunition. Barragan and Lopez were booked into jail on charges of marijuana cultivation with such charges involving false imprisonment and possession of weapons pending further investigation.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff eradicated the marijuana plants. They also warn those recreating in Los Padres National Park and other wooded areas to be wary of such marijuana growing operations. Sugars said they are typically tended by Mexican nationals who are often armed. Thus, they should be avoided. Suspicious activity should be reported to the U.S. Forest Service.