Agents seized about 1,200 pot plants ranging from three feet tall to seven feet tall from the backyard of a home on the 100 block of Holly Avenue and behind a plywood wall surrounded by cornstalks on Highway 33 between Holly and Almond avenues.
Paperwork in a binder attached to the wooden wall indicated the marijuana behind the wall was being grown for the San Jose-based Yerba Buena Collective, dBA YB Fire Inc. Suspects told authorities that plants found in the backyard of the home were going to be sold to a yet-to-be-determined collective, said Sgt. Bob Hunt of the Stanislaus DEA.
“It was pretty easy to see that it was a commercial production situation,” Hunt said, noting the large amounts of plants that were grown.
Javier Arias Guzman, 52, of Martinez; Merchor Cardenas, 19, of San Jose; Camilo Lopez Sujuan, 42, a resident of Mexico who was in the country illegally; and Eric Pinal, 27, of San Jose were arrested on suspicion of marijuana cultivation and distribution, Hunt said.
Cardenas and Pinal both said they were growing marijuana for the Yerba Buena Collective, Hunt said. One of the men said he was being paid $100,000 for the task, while the other said he was being paid $150,000, he said.
Guzman and Sujuan both said they both planned to sell their crop to a collective for profit, Hunt said.
The four men were found in the home on Holly Avenue and in a trailer on the same property when agents served a warrant at 7 a.m., Hunt said.
Authorities worked past 2 p.m. clearing the property of plants, using tractors and a dump truck to remove the plants.
Agents spent several weeks investigating before last week’s raid as they sought to obtain evidence that cultivators were growing the marijuana for profit, Hunt said. The county DEA is a collaborative effort among the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, city police departments within the county and federal agencies.
A state proposition in 1996 allows for medical marijuana use in California despite federal regulations that continue to prohibit marijuana sales. However, Attorney General guidelines in 2008 declare that cooperatives and collectives for medical marijuana patients may receive only enough money from members to pay for overhead costs and operating expenses.
Hunt said the Patterson farm was growing far more plants than would be consumed for personal use among cooperative members.
A man reached by phone last week at the Yerba Buena Collective, who described himself as a manager but would not give his name, said he did not understand why the raid occurred.
“It’s unfortunate what they’re doing,” he said. “We have all the correct paperwork and everything like that. We have it for our patients.”
The Yerba Buena Collective has six locations in San Jose; according to its website. However, the manager reached by phone said its medicinal marijuana patients live as far away as Los Angeles. Its website boasts “the friendliest staff in the industry, the finest selections of medicinal strains, concentrates, edibles, and clones, and customer service beyond industry standards.”
The cooperative started growing marijuana in Patterson a couple of months ago because of its rich, fertile soil and widespread areas for growing, the manager said.
“We thought it wouldn’t be a nuisance to anybody. We’re not hiding it,” he said, adding that the plywood wall was erected to hide the plants from thieves.
The collective was still trying to determine whether too many plants were on the site as of Thursday afternoon, and its attorneys would consider legal options, he said.
A few nearby residents said they were glad about the raid. One area resident described it as a “happy day,” saying that it appeared suspicious activities were happening there, and the plywood wall that guarded many of the plants was erected in less than two weeks time.
“I swear, it was like in one day it was up,” the resident said.
Thursday’s bust came less than a year after about 1,360 pounds worth of marijuana plants and 102 pounds of finished product were confiscated Oct. 3 in the same location, although different cultivators were arrested at the time.
It also occurred just three days before a marijuana grow house was discovered at Wolfpack Court and Fountain Grass Drive in south Patterson following a garage fire in the home.
While Hunt did not have immediate details about what was confiscated, Patterson Fire Department received a report of the fire at 8:05 a.m. Sunday, July 29. The fire was caused by an electrical short in the garage, as residents tried to bypass the meter and tap into the electric line directly, said Capt. Jeff Breasher of the Patterson Fire Department.
When firefighters examined the rest of the house, they found a marijuana grow room with grow lights and a filtration system to eliminate the odor of the pot plants, Breasher said.
“It was quite a shock to (firefighters),” he said.
A resident at the home told a neighbor of plans to leave the premises to call 911, and then never returned, Breasher said. Because there were no suspects at hand when DEA agents arrived, no arrests were made, Hunt said.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or firstname.lastname@example.org.