Major pot bust made in Kent

Federal agents and local law enforcement officers raided five homes in Kent Wednesday as part of a crackdown throughout King County on indoor marijuana-growing operations.

Federal agents and local law enforcement officers raided five homes in Kent Wednesday as part of a crackdown throughout King County on indoor marijuana-growing operations.

Twenty people were taken into custody as agents executed 13 search warrants on alleged marijuana growing operations in the county.

Law enforcement officials seized 4,578 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $500,000, three weapons, 20 vehicles and an estimated $50,000 in cash, according to a media release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The raids were part of what federal agents call, “Operation Green Reaper,” aimed at trying to control indoor marijuana-growing operations in the Puget Sound area.

“This is not a few guys growing plants,” Kent Police Chief Steve Strachan said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It's a large-scale criminal enterprise.”

The 20 people arrested are expected to be charged Thursday or Friday in connection with the growing operations, Strachan said. The exact charges had yet to be determined Wednesday.

Strachan said the indoor grow operations have spread to this area from British Columbia.

“We want to send the message that we will not allow them to expand in the Puget Sound area,” Strachan said.

Kent Police are part of the Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team that joined federal agents in what's been a two-year investigation of marijuana-growing operations in the area. Police departments from Auburn, Renton, Tukwila and the Port of Seattle also are part of the Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team.

The raids on Wednesday included five homes in Kent, four in unincorporated King County, two in Federal Way, one in Des Moines and one in Seattle.

Neighbors in the unincorporated Panther Lake area, just northeast of Kent, spotted numerous police officers early Wednesday morning at a home near Southeast 216th Street and 104th Place Southeast in a quiet residential neighborhood several blocks from Panther Lake Elementary School.

“They like to purchase homes in middle or upper class neighborhoods,” Strachan said of growers.

David Dongilli, an assistant special agent with the DEA, warned about the dangers of such operations.

“It is important for the public to know how dangerous indoor marijuana cultivation is to our community,” Dongilli said in the media release. “These drug-trafficking organizations are concealing their illegal activities in the very heart of many of our neighborhoods. Drug traffickers are buying or leasing suburban homes and illegally modifying them, usually with jury-rigged electrical wiring and extensive internal irrigation systems, and utilizing substantial amounts of toxic chemicals and fertilizers (which are ultimately either dumped or wind up as byproducts in the municipal sewer and water systems) in order to grow their marijuana.”

Dongilli said the drug operations in homes also cause other problems.

“These homes are more readily prone to fires and the mold contamination produced from the cultivation process poses significant health and safety concerns to the community,” Dongilli said. “The unfortunate end result is that these drug dealers collect huge illicit profits and our community banks and other mortgage holders are left with virtually uninhabitable and foreclosed homes.”

Agents found a handgun at one of the Kent homes and an assault rifle at a Federal Way home, Strachan said.

The task force conducted a similar raid in April at about 14 locations in the Puget Sound area, including a Kent mortgage company. About a dozen persons were charged with the conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.

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