Operation Disco Dazed: Huge Marijuana Grow Organization Dismantled
May 16 ( Sacramento, CA) — Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announce the arrest of 19 individuals and the service of numerous search warrants today in Operation Disco Dazed.
As a result of the investigation law enforcement seized 14 indoor marijuana grow operations, 3,606 marijuana plants, 96 pounds of processed marijuana, 36 firearms to include multiple assault rifles, a 37mm grenade launcher, a ballistic vest, eight vehicles, five motorcycles, five boats to include an Eliminator Sport Boat, and approximately $400,000.
“This large-scale marijuana trafficking organization set up shop in several neighborhoods and communities. Through the diligent efforts of law enforcement they have been dismantled and the nuisance removed,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams. “The great success of this investigation would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance received from our law enforcement partners.”
The DEA Sacramento District Office began their investigation in early 2011 after receiving information about an alleged drug trafficking organization centered around Grower’s Choice Hydroponics, a hydroponic equipment retailer operating in Tracy and Hayward-- according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Steven Ortega Sr. and Marla Ortega own both retail outlets.
During the course of the investigation, agents learned that Steven Ortega Sr. and Steven Ortega Jr. were leaders of this drug trafficking organization, and used Grower’s Choice Hydroponics to furnish cultivation equipment to partners willing to grow marijuana in exchange for profit sharing. Court documents further reveal the organization allegedly maintained several marijuana growing operations in multiple counties. Through investigative efforts law enforcement learned that marijuana was trafficked locally and outside of California.
The lengthy investigation culminated today when hundreds of law enforcement personnel served federal arrest and search warrants. All warrants were served without incident. The following individuals were arrested today in this investigation:
Charges include manufacture, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, and maintaining a place for manufacture and distribution of marijuana.
Law enforcement discovered indoor marijuana growing operations at 14 locations where search warrants were served. Many of the operations were set up with sophisticated lighting, water irrigation, ventilation, and air filtration systems. The electricity in some of these homes had been rewired to bypass the electrical meter, saving the organization thousands of dollars in electrical bills each month, but creating a significant fire hazard. The DEA estimates the value of the marijuana seized in this investigation to be more than $1 million.
This case was the product of an extensive investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, San Leandro Police Department, San Joaquin County Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force (METRO), Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Tracy Police Department, and California Highway Patrol. Assistance was also provided by Antioch Police Department, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Central Valley HIDTA, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation-Evidence Response Team, Homeland Security Investigations, Manteca Police Department, Placer County Special Investigations Unit, San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, United States Marshals Service, United States Postal Inspection Service, West El Dorado County Narcotics Enforcement Team. Assistant United States Attorney Michael Anderson is prosecuting the case.
The defendants are scheduled to have an initial appearance today in Sacramento Federal Court. If convicted of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana counts, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 10 years in prison, and a $4 million fine. If convicted of maintaining a place for manufacture and distribution of marijuana the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables and any applicable statutory sentencing factors.The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.