The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office raided the largest illegal marijuana grow in Pueblo County history on Wednesday.
At least 7,000 marijuana plants, worth about $15 million, were found in the San Isabel Forest off of Highway 165 in Rye. The Sheriff's Office says this is "no doubt' the largest illegal marijuana raid in the county's history.
According to the Sheriff's Office, the investigation began in January when a local citizen discovered the cultivation site and reported it to the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff's Office Narcotics Detectives began a surveillance of the area towards the end of May as the snow dissipated. They discovered two sophisticated operations that included water pumps, irrigation lines and fertilizer. The locations were strategically selected based on sunlight, water and the ability to conceal the sites.
In June, Detectives discovered marijuana plants had been planted and were approximately 12-18 inches in height. Detectives also observed people under a man-made lean-to shelter near the marijuana plants.
In early August, two more grow sites were observed by the U.S. Forest Service during a routine "fly over" of the area checking for beetle kill and tree damage. Investigation into these grows revealed a man wearing camouflage in and around the grows. Corroborating evidence was gathered in order to obtain a search warrant for the area.
On Wednesday Sheriff Kirk Taylor led a multi-agency operation known as "Operation Flypaper" to extricate the marijuana grows. The teams involved were the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, Narcotics Division, Special Weapons And Tactics team (S.W.A.T.), the Special Tactics And Techniques team (S.T.A.T.) and Emergency Services Bureau, the Pueblo Police Department's S.W.A.T. team and Narcotics Unit, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.
The teams successfully found two marijuana grow sites that were larger than originally anticipated.
Sheriff Taylor says there's an indication this could be a Mexican drug cartel operation.
Two men, 32-year-old Luis Leon-Tobar and 29-year-old Abel Resendiz-Soto, were arrested without incident and were transported to the Pueblo County Jail. Four other men were seen fleeing the area on foot and have not yet been identified or apprehended due to the vast terrain. There are no indications that the four men who fled are in the area or are a threat to citizens, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Leon-Tobar and Resendiz-Soto are being held in the Pueblo County jail with a $100,000 bond for charges of unlawful distribution of 100 pounds or more of marijuana, illegal cultivation of 30 or more marijuana pants, illegal possession of marijuana more than 12 ounces, and second degree criminal trespass.
If you have any information regarding this case, you're asked to call the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office at 719-583-6250 or Crime Stoppers at 719-542-STOP (7867).