Raid uncovers sophisticated growing operation


DRUG HAUL: Suspected marijuana plants in different stages of growth were confiscated from a house in Struthers. The bin contains sprouts. Mature, budding plants are on the table in the garage at the Struthers police station. Another growing operation in Youngstown was raided Wednesday.


YOUNGSTOWN — Members of the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force are making room for more than 300 suspected marijuana plants seized in drug raids at two houses.

A raid at 85 Smithfield St., Struthers, at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday netted 60 to 70 plants and uncovered a sophisticated growing operation, said Struthers police Chief Robert Norris and Struthers Detective Jeff Pantall. Pantall also is a full-time member of the task force.

Lt. Robin Lees, task-force commander, estimated the plants as worth between $60,000 and $70,000.

Lees said officers got a search warrant for a second location, in Youngstown, on information associated with the raid in Struthers. Police raided the house at 427 Ferndale Ave. Wednesday morning.

In Struthers, Pantall said the raid capped a yearlong investigation. Norris said Struthers police and the task force worked together on the case.

One man and one woman will be charged, Pantall said. He said they face indictment by a Mahoning County grand jury after direct presentment, possibly by the end of the week. They will be charged at least with cultivation, he said.

There were no scales, plastic bags or other evidence of distribution in the house, he said.

Pantall, Norris and Mayor Terry Stocker described the basement of the house as a homemade greenhouse, with heavy plastic protecting the plants; lighting; fertilizer; and dryer hose that vented odors up the chimney.

In the garage of the police station, where officers took the confiscated plants, Norris pointed out mature, budding plants, young plants and sprouts. With that cycle of growth, he said, the growers would have been able to harvest marijuana every week.

No one in the quiet neighborhood, which includes a preschool and is near the city’s Mauthe Park, suspected the operation was there, they said.

In Youngstown, the entire second floor of the South Side house had been converted into a sophisticated growing operation, Lees said. He said two men living at the home had built a machine capable of mass-producing the marijuana plants on an ongoing basis.

“This is the most sophisticated I have ever seen,” Lees said. “I have seen some grows, but I have not seen a machine like this.”

Police took 140 plants from the machine, and a total of 255 plants from the house. Lees said the value of the plants would be about $150,000 as a conservative figure.

Lees could not say how long the marijuana operation had been there, but said the growing machine had been in use for a good amount of time.

Lees said police have questioned the two men who live at the Ferndale residence and also plan to make a direct presentment to the grand jury this week. The names of the four suspects in both operations have not been released pending the official charges.

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