Raids Continue, Search Victims Cry ‘Foul 3/8’
SEATTLE (AP) _ Targets of a federal crackdown on marijuana growers criticized the search- and-seizure tactics of drug agents Friday, but officials defended them as necessary to stem the flow of potent pot.
″They made one hell of a mess,″ said Steve Murphy, whose Indoor Sun Shoppe was one of five Seattle stores raided. He said agents took everything from his store except plants and baskets, including two computers containing store records such as invoices and payroll data.
″It seems a little ridiculous to pick on this shop,″ Murphy said. ″You could start going to all the hardware stores and lighting stores or just about any other place. We don’t carry anything that they don’t have.″
But Raymond McKinnon, agent in charge of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration in Seattle, defended the raids.
″One of the things we were particularly aiming at were the business records,″ he said. ″Some of these people should be concerned.″
After two days of raids, drug agents around the country had arrested 191 people by late Friday afternoon and seized 20,419 marijuana plants and 290 pounds of packaged marijuana, said a federal law enforcement source in Washington, D.C.
They also confiscated 137 indoor marijuana groves and searched 36 stores believed to sell equipment used in indoor marijuana cultivation, seizing nine of them.
The agents seized a total of $5.9 million in assets, primarily the stores and equipment and some cash, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Officials said store records would be used for further investigation.
In the previous month, the investigation code-named Operation Green Merchant resulted in the arrests of 112 people on charges of cultivating marijuana at 94 indoor growing locations containing 17,000 plants, said DEA spokesman Frank Shults.
″The idea of this operation was to reassert to the American public the idea of accountability,″ McKinnon said. ″There is no area of drug trafficking that is immune to prosecution.″
The biggest drug seizure over the last two days was in Columbus, Ga., where agents discovered 3,400 marijuana plants in a barn on a farm, the Washington source said.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent John Pike said the marijuana had an estimated street value of $8 million. The farmer who is believed to have grown the marijuana was still at large, he said.
Agents also seized 1,440 plants at a site in Wichita, Kan., and 600 plants grown by an equipment store owner in San Diego, the source said.
Officials said Thursday they were targeting about 100 indoor marijuana groves in 46 states and 65 stores in 22 states. Raids will continue ″for as long as it takes,″ the source said.
″The point has to be made that anyone dealing drugs in this community will be dealt with,″ said Mike McKay, U.S. attorney for western Washington.
In North Carolina, 76 people were charged with possession or manufacturing of marijuana.
Joseph Huberman of Raleigh, who was not arrested, said officers searched his house because he had ordered a light meter to help cultivate orchids from a mail-order company suspected by the DEA. He said he allowed the agents into his home even though they did not have a warrant.
″I feel like it’s not good, eroding my civil rights for this drug program,″ Huberman said. ″It must be a little inconvenient for them to have to pay attention to the Constitution all the time.″