Drug agents have raided two more illegal marijuana gardens, bringing the number found in Northern Gila County since mid-July to four. The Gila County Narcotics Task Force, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Forest Service and other law enforcement agencies staged both raids Aug. 11.
In Y-Bar Canyon, at the base of the Mogollon Rim and about four miles north of the Control Road, agents found and destroyed 1,891 plants from three to six feet in height, said a Payson-based GCNTF agent.
No suspects were captured, but a camp, where two garden tenders were believed to be living, was found.
Also Aug. 11, agents found 1,494 plants, one to three feet in height, growing at Patton Springs in the Mazatzal Wilderness Area south of Payson.
The site was only a few miles from where bear hunters found a garden growing last fall. At that time, the hunters and at least three Mexican nationals tending the garden exchanged gunfire prompting law enforcement officials to issue warnings to anyone stumbling across a garden. Their advice was to leave the scene immediately and call authorities.
At the Patton Springs garden, agents found a camp they believed had been abandoned for two or three days.
While most of the grows discovered this summer have been the result of citizen tips, agents said the Patton Springs and Y-Bar Canyon sites were discovered by using "investigative law techniques."
The agents refused to expound, saying it could reveal crucial information to the illegal growers.
The two other Gila County raids took place July 29 on a garden east of the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery and July 11 at a site north of Camp Geronimo.
The garden discovered near the fish hatchery contained about 30,000 plants spread out over a half-mile area. It was one of the largest gardens ever discovered in Gila County.
The actual growing field found near Camp Geronimo was about three acres in size and contained about 8,000 plants that were midway through maturity, and scattered 10 to 15 feet apart.
Two suspects were corralled and their escape route led them directly to an awaiting SWAT team.
The two, Jesus Mejia, 25, and his brother Gabriel Mejia, 19, were arrested, interviewed and booked into the Payson Gila County Jail. Both were charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and possession of marijuana.
Agents say all gardens found this summer have featured basically the same growing operation.
Mexican nationals, possibly working off human smuggling debts, were tending the gardens, which were planted near water sources in secluded areas.
"About the only difference in all them is the size (of the gardens) and the number of plants," an agent said.