Charged, 28 Arrested in Connection with Port St. Lucie
SEP 20 -- Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Miami Field Division, R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Brian J. Wimpling, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), John M. Skinner, Chief, Port St. Lucie Police Department, Ken Mascara, Sheriff, St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office, and Robert L. Crowder, Sheriff, Martin County Sheriff’s Office, announced the unsealing of three federal complaints and two indictments against thirty-five (35) defendants, charging them with the cultivation of marijuana in the Port St. Lucie area.
The charges culminate from a joint investigation by the DEA, IRS, Port St. Lucie Police Department, St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office, Martin County Sheriff’s Office and United States Attorney’s Office. Starting in May 2006, law enforcement began identifying and dismantling residential marijuana grow houses in St. Lucie County. To date, more than 50 homes have been identified as marijuana grow houses. These have been searched and dismantled, resulting in the seizure of approximately 4,000 pounds of marijuana, $167,000 in cash, and a large cache of sophisticated indoor hydroponic grow equipment.
The investigation revealed that many grow houses were set up identically. In addition, a subsequent review of documents seized from various grow houses established financial and other connections between seemingly separate properties. As a result, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the DEA, and IRS teamed up with local law enforcement to identify and target those who organized, financed, set-up and maintained the grow houses. According to the charges, the grow houses were financed by a business in New Jersey. People associated with the New Jersey business were offered a “relocation” package to the St. Lucie area. As part of the “relocation” plan, a home would be selected for purchase and 100% financing arranged for the prospective buyer. Once the home was purchased and placed in the buyer’s name, it would be converted into a grow house in advance of the move-in date. Pursuant to the relocation package, each homeowner agreed to maintain the grow house for two years, after which time the homeowner could continue with the marijuana operation or sell the home. If the home was sold, the equity would be split 50-50 between the homeowner and the New Jersey financiers. During the initial two year period, most of the homeowner’s expenses were paid by the organization. In return, the homeowner was required to tend to the marijuana plants, and separate arrangements were made to harvest the plants and start a new crop two to three times a year. When harvested, each plant was worth $4, 000, of which the homeowner received $1,000 per plant. Each home had between 34 and 322 plants, yielding between $136,000.00 to $1,288,000.00 in proceeds for each harvest. Some homes generated three or four harvests a year.
“Whether grown outdoors or in a garage, marijuana today is extremely potent and dangerous and the cultivation of this illicit drug will not be tolerated by DEA," said Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Miami Field Division. "The citizens of St. Lucie County can rest a little easier today knowing that many drug dealers responsible for the cultivation of thousands of pounds of marijuana in their very neighborhoods are under arrest due to the hard work and dedication of DEA and their federal and local counterparts."
United States Attorney Acosta stated, “Today, we have effectively dismantled a well-organized and well-financed marijuana grow house operation, with tentacles that stretched from South Florida to New York. We have charged thirty-five individuals and shut down fifty grow houses. But we are not done yet. We will continue to investigate with the goal of identifying, arresting, and prosecuting all those responsible for finding and financing the homes, preparing the homes for the cultivation of marijuana, and harvesting and distributing the marijuana.” Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Port St. Lucie Police Department, the States Attorney’s Office, the St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office, and the Martin County Sheriff’s Office during this investigation. The United States Attorney also commends the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service, who jointly investigated the narcotics and financial aspects of this case.
IRS Special Agent in Charge Brian J. Wimpling added, “IRS stands ready to lend its financial expertise to assist our law enforcement colleagues in the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes, including tax evasion and money laundering.”
Port St. Lucie Police Chief John Skinner stated, “Federal, state and local authorities will continue to work together to ensure criminal enterprises will not take a foothold in our community." St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara added, “As Sheriff, I am committed to maintaining a strong working relationship with all of our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to rid our community of drugs and drug dealers. Our citizens deserve our best efforts to combat these criminal activities.” Martin County Sheriff Robert L. Crowder stated, “This series of arrests is further evidence of the successful teamwork in law enforcement on the Treasure Coast. We strive to combine our efforts and share our information to reduce the amount of illegal drugs on our streets and to bring criminals to justice.”