$5 Million In Marijuana Plants Destroyed

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Twice in the past few months, hunters have stumbled upon large outdoor marijuana grow sites outside of Payson, worth more than $5 million.

On Thursday, the Gila County Sheriff’s Office Drug, Gang and Violent Crimes Task Force raided a site 15 miles south of town, in the Mount Ord area, where 1,233 plants were found planted in a remote, rugged area, said Gila County Sheriff’s Sgt. Travis Baxley.

Investigators believe the plants, with an approximate street value of more than $1,573,000, were owned by a Mexican drug cartel, which was shipping the cultivated crop to the Phoenix area.

During Thursday’s raid, one illegal immigrant working in the field was arrested. His name was not immediately known and no one else was in the area when officers arrived, Baxley said.

Several months ago, the task force received a tip from hunters that there was a large “garden” growing outside of town.

After gathering intelligence, officers hiked into the area Thursday, made the arrest and ripped out the plants. A Forest Service Hotshot crew then lit the plants on fire, destroying them, Baxley said.

Thursday’s bust was one of the smaller ones in recent months.

Several weeks ago, the task force destroyed 1,900 plants near Christopher Creek, worth an estimated $3.5 million.

Hunters also discovered those plants.

When officers raided the site, they found it had been abandoned, so no arrests were made.

Investigators do not know if there is a connection between the two grow sites.

Along with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Phoenix Police Department, Miami Police Department, Payson Police Department and Navajo County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Apprehension Team participated in Thursday’s eradication.

Contact Commander Johnny Sanchez or Baxley with tips or information at (928) 425-4449 or (928) 474-2208.

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