Click the photo on the right to view more images from the scene
NewsChannel 7's Colin Mayfield, along with other media from Wisconsin, is taking a tour Thursday of the former site of a large scale marijuana grow in Oconto County.
The U.S. Forestry Service says on August 29, 8,385, marijuana plants and 125-150 lbs. of process marijuana were confiscated from the Chequamegon-Nicolet Forest. Investigators had been working for several months investigating the grow site from Doty to Mountain.
Maria Blanca Garcia, Miguel Sanchez-Garcia, Pedro Infante-Ramirez, Guillermo Chavez-Carrion, Jose Alfredo Sierra-Aguilar and Juan Carlos Cervantes Contreras are all charged with with conspiracy to manufacture and possess marijuana with the intent to deliver. Authorities say only Blanca Garcia is in the United States legally.
In June, a fisherman called the DNR after noticing a marijuana grow along the south branch of the Oconto River near Highway T. Aerial surveillance confirmed the presence of at least three cultivation sites. Several weeks later, eight to 10 more sites were identified. Law enforcement agents installed cameras to monitor traffic in and out the grow site.
According to the criminal complaint, officers began noticing the same vehicle near the grow site. In July, they obtained a warrant and were able to install a GPS tracking unit on the vehicle. The vehicle is registered to Maria Blanca Garcia, of Brandon, Wis. A record check shows that prior to the fall of 2011, she lived in Othello, Washington. A second warrant was obtained to install a tracker on another vehicle belonging to Blanca Garcia.
The investigation intensified on August 21 after an agent spotted several large garbage bags near Highway T and Highway 64 near the Oconto County grow site. Inside the bags were processed marijuana divided and vacuumed sealed in more bags. The criminal complaint states the bags were picked up overnight. On August 25, officers began to monitor the two vehicles registered to Blanca Garcia. An agent with Drug Enforcement Administration noted that one of the vehicles, a Grand Prix was driving in manner to perhaps identify or lose surveillance officers. A state patrol officer stopped the vehicle on Highway 41 in Winnebago County and detained all of the occupants. DEA had been collecting evidence on the suspects for weeks and were able to confirm their identities. The individuals arrested included the driver, Maria Blanca Garcia and three passengers; Jose Alfredo Sierra-Aguilar, Pedro Enfante-Ramirez, and Guillermo Chavez-Carrio.
Agents also stopped the other vehicle registered to Blanca Garcia and arrested Juan Carlos Cervantes-Contreras. During a search of the vehicle investigators found a hand-drawn map to the grow site.
About 200 federal, state, tribal and local officers have been involved. Investigators are still trying to find out how long marijuana was being grown in the area.
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen agreed. “These kinds of grows present a significant public safety and environmental hazard,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to prevent these grows from ever taking hold and the drugs from winding up on the street, but we need the public’s help in reporting what they see if something that strikes them as suspicious.”
Officials say people should be aware of the following:
•Signs of activity or items that suggest someone is living in an area. This includes huts, tents, irrigation hoses, watering jugs and chemical containers; and,
•Signs of disturbed vegetation, such as abnormal cuttings or the clearing of small areas.
If suspicious activity is found, notify local law enforcement. The WDNR also operates a confidential tip line staffed round-the-clock for reporting suspected or observed illegal activity.
The number is 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367 or cell #367). You also can call the DCI toll-free at 1-800-NAB-DRUG (1-800-622-3784)