- Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 August 2010 21:37
- Published on Tuesday, 17 August 2010 21:37
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Richmond County Sheriff’s Office discovered 14,000 marijuana plants
Local law enforcement authorities received a tip last Wednesday that may have uncovered the presence of a violent Mexican drug cartel here on the Northern Neck.
With help from federal, state agencies and other local Sheriff’s Offices, the tip resulted in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office’s confiscation and destruction of a $44 million marijuana crop and an arrest of one illegal alien.
In a phone interview on Tuesday morning, Richmond County Sheriff Douglas A. Bryant minced no words when praising the law enforcement agencies that provided their assistance and continue to lend specialized support.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office seized the largest quantity of marijuana in the entire state of Virginia for the 2010 season between Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010, and Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010,” Bryant related.
“The total exceeded 14,000 plants. Until now, the largest seizure [in Virginia] was approximately 1,000 plants.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office received a tip last Wednesday that resulted in discovery of a pot-growing operation off China Hill Road in the Newland section of Richmond County. The site isn’t very far from Montross.
“On Aug. 12, 2010, at approximately 5:20 p.m. while members of Richmond and Northumberland county Sheriff’s Offices conducted surveillance on the marijuana grow, they observed two Hispanic males tending the plants.
“When law enforcement officials approached them, they fled the area.”
One suspect made it into Westmoreland County, where he was apprehended by a Westmoreland County Sheriff’s deputy. As late as Tuesday morning, the other suspect still had not been caught.
“Officials took into custody one suspect who was later identified as Jamie Ramirez-Duarte,” Sheriff Bryant explained. “The investigation to identify the second suspect continues.
“We determined that Ramirez-Duarte is in this country illegally. Ramirez-Duarte stated that he lives on the property in a tent, and his sole job is taking care of the [marijuana] plants.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s next thread of information was most chilling. Sheriff Bryant’s office has worked closely in recent days with federal law enforcement authorities.
“According to a DEA official, these circumstances are identical to what is occurring in California,” he related.
“Investigation found that a lot of work had been conducted on this property, including [development of] a primitive irrigation system [using water from a swamp].
“We seized 6,138 marijuana plants from this grow operation, with a street value of nearly $19 million.”
Sheriff Bryant’s narrative grew even more chilling when he explained that “Ramirez-Duarte advised that the Los Zetas drug cartel out of Mexico threatened that if he did not attend to the marijuana plants, they would execute his family.
“At this time,” Bryant related, “we have not confirmed this information. Ramirez-Duarte was charged with the manufacture of marijuana and committed to Northern Neck Regional Jail, where he currently is held under no bond.”
The suspect is scheduled to appear in a Richmond County court on Friday. The charge of possessing in excess of 5 pounds of marijuana could result in up to 30 years in prison.
Sheriff Bryant expressed profound gratitude to all the outside law enforcement agencies who offered their assistance. The list included Northumberland, Lancaster and Westmoreland county sheriff’s offices, the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“On August 14, 2010,” he continued, “the Virginia Army National Guard flew over an area on Conley Pond Road in the Farnham area of Richmond County as a request made by this office due to a tip received by Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office of a possible marijuana grow operation.
“Upon flying over, numerous marijuana plants were spotted from the air. Law enforcement moved in on the property to secure it. No persons were found on the property.
“This marijuana grow operation was consistent with the property on China Hill Road” and, as the DEA officer had previously noted to the Richmond County Sheriff, strikingly similar to the grow operations the federal agency has encountered in the closer than previously supposed state of California.
“Officials seized 8,239 marijuana plants with a street value of nearly $25 million from the property on Conley Pond Road,” Sheriff Bryant stated.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office again personally thanks all the law enforcement officials that assisted in the eradication of the marijuana plants.
“This agency received assistance from Northumberland, Lancaster, Westmoreland and Essex county Sheriff’s Offices, as well as the Virginia Department of Corrections, Northern Neck Regional Jail, Giant Task Force (Governors Initiative Against Narcotic Trafficking), Virginia State Police, Drug Enforcement Administration and Virginia Army National Guard.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office also thanks the Richmond County Fire and Rescue Squad for their support and the Essex County Fire Department for supplying an all-terrain vehicle to assist in removing the plants.
“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office will continue working closely with Northumberland and Lancaster County Sheriff’s Offices, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if the information regarding the Los Zetas Drug Cartel gang activity has a connection in this area.
“This investigation demonstrates an excellent example of what can be accomplished when local, state and federal law enforcement join in a collaborative effort against crime.”