1,200 Marijuana Plants Found in Pike County Might be Linked to Drug Cartel

More than a thousand marijuana plants with suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel were found Thursday near the Pike and Ross county line.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said the marijuana plants along Hickson Road were spotted during a Wednesday fly-over by state investigators.

The hillside growing operation just a few miles south of Richmond Dale across the county line was spotted during a two-day marijuana eradication effort conducted by agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigationand the Pike County Sheriff’s Office.

“BCI staff are highly trained and skilled in identifying marijuana plants and found more than twelve hundred plants in the beginning stages of growth,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a news release.

Investigators also reported finding evidence of two campsites they think likely belonged to Mexican nationals. Both camps were abandoned, much like the camp found in August 2010 on the other side of Pike County, where agents found about 22,000 marijuana plants in two adjoining properties near the camps along Grassy Fork and Green Ridge roads.

“I don’t think they actually know who the other group (from 2010) was except that they were using Hispanic workers to grow it,” Junk said, adding it takes “some serious organized crime” to conduct such an operation.

In August 2011, the same eradication efforts in Vinton County led to the discovery of about 17,000 plants –400 pounds — of marijuana growing along Ohio 328 near New Plymouth.

Junk said this area of Ohio is ideal for large marijuana-growing operations.

“This is Pike County. We’re rural and we have lots of land and lots of forest where no one goes,” Junk said. “(The location of the operations) is not some place you would causally run into.”

Officers from 13 area law enforcement agencies worked all day Thursday to remove the plants and burn them.

If the plants had been allowed to mature and were sold on the streets, each plant could have been sold for $1,000 to $1,500 apiece, authorities estimated.

“We’re doing everything we can in Pike County to fight the war on drugs the best we can,” Pike County Sheriff Richard Henderson said. “There is no way we can do this by ourselves, so we are very grateful to everyone who came together today to help us get these drugs out of our community.”

No arrests have been made, although investigators said evidence left at the scene could help them identify the people responsible. No one was prosecuted for the 2010 operation that was found. Junk said it’s difficult to track down those people responsible unless they are caught in the act or investigators are sent in to observe the operation for a period of time before going in to remove the marijuana.

“I don’t think we’ll have an arrest out of it,” he said.

However, sometimes the operations do lead to arrests and convictions. In August 2011, 11 men were sentenced for participating in a large growing operation in Muskingum County. All but one man was reported to have been illegal immigrants. In that case, several were found at the camp separating marijuana buds and plants when it was raided in September 2011.

Several agencies assisted in the case Thursday, including sheriff’s offices from Scioto, Ross, Pickaway and Fayette counties, as well as the Circleville and Portsmouth police departments, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Southern Ohio Corrections Facility Special Response Team, the U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, the Pike County Hazmat Team, and the American Red Cross.

Including the 1,238 plants seized today, BCI and Pike County authorities seized 1,609 marijuana plants over the two-day drug eradication effort.

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