News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2007
For Information Contact,
Special Agent Ramona Sanchez
Public Information Officer
(602) 664-5725

DEA Announces Marijuana Bust In Tonto National Forest
Drugs were worth $50 million; 17 arrested in grow operation

NOV 1 -- (Phoenix, AZ) – The Drug Enforcement Administration and other law enforcement agencies today announced the successful eradication of 25,000 marijuana plants, with an approximate street value of $50 million in processed marijuana, and the arrests of 17 individuals involved in several marijuana growing operations in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. Federal charges have been filed against 18 individuals by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Seventeen individuals are currently in custody; one remains at large.

Five separate grow operations have been eradicated during this growing season, which usually last from May to October. The marijuana cultivation operations, located entirely on federal land in the Tonto National Forest and in Gila County, were also supported by supply routes in Maricopa County. The federal charges resulted from investigations conducted by the Gila County Narcotics Task Force (comprised of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office), the U.S. Forest Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Phoenix Police Department. A chart of those arrested and the charges filed against them is located below.

"This eradication operation means that thousands of marijuana plants never made it into our neighborhoods, and millions of dirty dollars never made it into the drug trade," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Elizabeth W. Kempshall. "DEA will continue to support our law enforcement partners in attacking all aspects of drug trafficking and the violence that goes hand in hand with the distribution of these harmful substances."

U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Knauss said of this operation, “These operations were successful due to the highest levels of cooperation from federal, state, and local officials. I applaud the exhausting efforts and professionalism exhibited by all these agencies as they strive to make our federal land safer for recreational use and prevent this drug from reaching the streets.”

"These operations have been highly successful in reducing the number of plants grown on national forest lands in Arizona," stated Robin Poague, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Southwestern Region of the Forest Service. Most of the cultivation areas were located in remote areas off normal trails in or near Maple Springs, Pigeon Springs, Promontory Butte, See Springs, Gold Creek Canyon and Hinton Canyons within the Tonto National Forest. Paid to cultivate and water the plants, many of the defendants would live and work in the gardens for several days up
to several months at time. Others would re-supply them with materials to assist with plant cultivation as well as food and other supplies necessary for wilderness survival.

Gila County Sheriff John Armer stated that “The Gila County Narcotics Task Force is funded by a Byrne Grant administered through the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission and consists of the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Gila County Attorney’s Office. Since 2003 the Task Force has eradicated in excess of 30 illegal Marijuana farms and a total of more than 200 thousand plants in the Gila County area. These seizures and eradications would have a street value as high as $170,000,000.”

"The Arizona Department of Public Safety is proud to be a part of the Gila County Narcotics Task Force. This successful eradication of a major drug operation will help keep Arizonans safe and will impact the flow of illegal drugs not just within the state but throughout the country." said Roger Vanderpool, Director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

“We are always pleased for the working relationship we have with all of our state and federal partners. We will continue to participate and do all we can to eradicate drug trafficking and the crimes associated with it from our community,” added Executive Assistant Police Chief Tom Lannon.

Read the Criminal Complaint >>