An extensive investigation that took DEA investigators from the west edge of Montrose County to a grow operation in Gateway Canyon, and finally to property north of Cedaredge, resulted in the seizure of approximately 1,300 pounds of marijuana last week. In addition, two arrests were made.
Luis Adolfo Garcia, 33, and Luis Rios-Cortez, 23, are charged with federal charges of intent to manufacture and distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana. Rios-Cortez also faces a third count, illegal alien in possession of a firearm.
The search warrant was carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Marshal's Service, 7th Judicial Drug Task Force and Delta County sheriff's deputies and investigator on Nov. 13.
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the investigation was launched after the discovery of two grow operations on public land along Highway 141. On Sept. 15, BLM rangers arrested four subjects later determined to be in the U.S. illegally. A total of six subjects were arrested after the discovery of the second grow operation on Sept. 30. Again all six were determined to be illegally residing in the U.S. One of the suspects testified that Sept. 30 was to be the growers' last day and they were packing up all the supplies and marijuana to leave the area for the year.
Target vehicles used in the operations were identified and a search warrant was signed, allowing tracker devices to be affixed to two pickups.
Beginning in late October, DEA agents began monitoring the GPS tracker device and observed one pickup leave Parachute and travel over Grand Mesa toward Cedaredge. The vehicle traveled onto High Park Road, a private road blocked by a locked gate. Electronic surveillance was maintained until the vehicle arrived at the intersection of High Park Road and San Juan Vista Road. The property was identified as belonging to Esther Garcia, who purchased the land in May.
After additional investigation, which included both a flyover and a drive-by, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher signed a search warrant for the Cedaredge area property, as well as a Parachute residence occupied by Esther Garcia, who identified herself as Luis Garcia's sister. Although the Cedaredge property and a truck were purchased in her name, she told investigators Luis had provided the funds. Additionally, she told agents she did not know what Luis Garcia was doing on the property in Cedaredge.
According to the criminal complaint, the search warrant was executed at the San Juan Vista property at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 13. As law enforcement agents moved through the property, they discovered large bins full of processed bud marijuana and large black lawn bags filled with processed marijuana. They found cut stalks of marijuana plants, and a processing area with large amounts of bud marijuana laid out on a tarp to dry.
They also encountered two Hispanic males. One of the two subjects sprinted away; the other, later identified Luis Rios-Cortes, appeared to consider running, then put his hands up in the air. He was wearing an automatic pistol on his right side.
Luis Garcia was arrested by sheriff's deputies as he was approaching the San Juan Vista property during the execution of the search warrant. Both suspects were transported to the Mesa County Jail.
Agents loaded approximately 36 lawn bags containing processed marijuana, each weighing approximately 40 pounds, and approximately six large tarps with approximately 70 pounds of marijuana each, into a U-Haul truck. The truck has been stored at a secure DEA facility in Grand Junction pending processing of the evidence.
In an interview with DEA agents later in the day Nov. 13, Luis Garcia told agents that all the marijuana seized from the San Juan Vista property was taken from six plants allowable under Colorado law. Because it was his first attempt at growing marijuana, he said "the six plants of marijuana got away from him and that was why he had so much."
When asked about other marijuana grows discovered during the course of the investigation, Luis Garcia said he was responsible for the marijuana at the Cedaredge property and nothing else; he visited the other grow operations because he heard there was free marijuana on the ground.
Attempts to locate the Hispanic male who ran away have been unsuccessful.
"As sheriff I want to commend our DEA and BLM for the diligent effort they put forth in this investigation," said Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee. "As a team we will remain diligent in seeking out those who continue to commit felony acts regarding the cultivation and distribution of marijuana."
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.