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The pot farm next door

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LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

There was a time when everyone in a neighborhood knew one another. Times have changed, and few can say they know their neighbors.

With more and more rental homes across the valley, it can be difficult to determine which properties are occupied, never mind what the occupants are up to inside.

On average, every two weeks someone in the valley is finding out about his or her neighbor's business when police show up to raid a marijuana grow operation.

The silence of a Las Vegas neighborhood was broken one early morning in November by barking dogs, a signal that something unusual was taking place.

"It's 5 a.m. My husband comes in and says, ‘Look out the window.' (I asked), ‘What am I looking at?' He says, ‘Just look,' and there's SWAT on the side of our fence," said Las Vegas resident Cathy Theriot.

It was a rude awakening, signaling that her next door neighbor was not what he seemed to be.

"I was shocked at all the stuff they were taking out of there. I had no idea," Theriot said.

"We got the tip just like any other. When we started investigating, we found out not only was he running the grow operation out of his house, but he also had a 10-year-old living there, exposing him to potential violence and all that comes with being inside a drug lab," said Las Vegas Metro police Lt. Laz Chavez.

Chavez runs Metro's narcotics squad. He oversees SCORE (Southern Nevada Cannabis Operation and Regional Enforcement), a task force that targets marijuana grow operations. The task force has been busy of late.

"For us, it's a priority. For us, it's about the community. For these criminals, it's just about the money," Chavez said.

A home in a quiet Henderson neighborhood was busted recently. The house contained about 100 illegal marijuana plants. That bust was one of 120 carried out by the SCORE team this year. Grow operations are located near you, schools and loved ones.

The SCORE team busted the house near Theriot's home on Nov. 5. Her neighbors, David Garretson and Derek Parker, are father and son. According to police, they have lengthy rap sheets. They lived on a one-acre lot, allegedly growing lots of pot, with a 10-year-old living there as well.

"Firearms, assault rifles, handguns, all over the house, in the safe and in the grow house. The amount of drugs was surprising and it was more than marijuana. With his (Garretson's) felony convictions, it was concerning to use," Chavez said.

The bust was a big one. Police confiscated 134 marijuana plants and 28 pounds of ready-to-sell marijuana. Police also found the synthetic marijuana known as spice, hallucinogenic mushrooms, guns and nearly $18,000 in cash.

Chavez said an operation such as this is a danger to anyone nearby.

"If there are children who live or walk by these houses… any day a violent event can occur. They have a tendency to rob each other. Drug dealers do that to each other, and sometimes citizens can be caught in the crossfire," he said.

For Theriot, it's still a lot to process. She and her family believed her neighbor owned his own construction business. He hosted pool parties for families with kids. However, Theriot did get an inkling that something was up.

"He told us he was growing marijuana for medical use and that we might smell it," she said. "We knew it was there, but we had no idea it was like what they found."

According to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, licensed marijuana patients can legally obtain one ounce of pot, three mature plants and four immature plants.

"We are not targeting patients. We are not targeting people who are legitimately sick. These are criminal organizations, growing 100, 200 plants. A lot of times, we're finding assault rifles inside these homes," Chavez said.

It turns out that Garretson wasn't shy about his illegal business. He showed off his grow house on Facebook. Photos depicted his elaborate hydroponic system, gear, gas mask and pot leaves. The photos weren't even set to "private."

"You're going to be facing us. We're going to seize your property, come after you, your money. We'll shut you down. These types of criminal operations in Las Vegas will not be tolerated," Chavez said.

What might tip you off to a grow house in your neighborhood? Metro police provided the following information:

  • Rarely does anyone appear to be home.
  • Visitors come and go at odd hours, entering or leaving the home quickly, often through the garage.
  • The residents avoid contact with neighbors.
  • Windows are kept closed and covered to conceal what's taking place inside.
  • Condensation may be present on window panes.
  • Equipment used in a grow operation is frequently carried into the house. This might include large fans, lights, plastic plant containers or bags of potting soil.
  • Sounds associated with construction or electrical humming may be heard coming from the house.
  • There may be localized surges and decreases in power.
  • Strange odors may come from the house. Marijuana produces a unique skunk-like odor. You'll usually smell it between dusk and dawn.
  • The exterior of the house is untidy, with little outside maintenance taking place. Garbage bags containing used soil and plant material may be discarded in areas surrounding the house or loaded into a vehicle for disposal.

Copyright 2012 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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