A massive law-enforcement crackdown on illegal marijuana-grow operations in the Antelope Valley last month resulted in more than 130 arrests and the seizure of marijuana with a street value of more than $1.19 billion, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday.
When the raids started June 8, Villanueva called them “the largest operation ever to take place in the history” of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and he repeated that assertion Wednesday.
He said the week-long effort resulted in the seizure of more than 16 tons of marijuana and 65 vehicles, including two water trucks. He said $28,000 in U.S. currency was seized, but that amount was solely that day’s payroll for the growers. According to the sheriff, 30 grow locations were flattened and 180 animals were rescued.
“Los Angeles County has seen a significant proliferation of illegal outdoor marijuana grows, especially in the Antelope Valley,” Villanueva said. “Many of these grows have been directly tied to Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and Asian and Armenian organized crime groups.”
He said narcotics detectives last year identified 150 of the illegal outdoor marijuana grows in the Antelope Valley, but there was a significant increase this year. Investigators conducted reconnaissance flights, and found more than 500 grows.
The operations have contributed to an uptick in violence in the area, the sheriff said, saying residents and passersby have been subjected to threats of violence. He also said the illegal grows were siphoning water from residents and farmers by tapping into fire hydrants and digging un-permitted wells.
Villanueva also said the operations endangered the environment and wildlife, with the growers using banned chemicals and pesticides on the crops.
He noted that during all of 2020, the sheriff’s department seized a total of just over 1 ton of marijuana. The June operation alone collected 16.5 tons.
“What we want to do is send a clear and loud message to the cartels and anyone doing an illegal operation in the high desert: Your days are over and we’re coming for you,” Villanueva said.
He also offered thanks to Antelope Valley residents who called in tips to the department.
“We want to thank definitely the courageous people of the Antelope Valley and the community who stepped forward,” he said. “They provided the tips and trusted our law enforcement efforts.”