Illegal Drugs Are Big Business
By Ned Wicker
You never know what you might find in a house in a quiet, suburban neighborhood.
Federal authorities entered three homes in neighborhoods south of the City of Milwaukee and found an elaborate marijuana growing operation. They confiscated the plants, worth an estimated $4-5 million.
“This was certain a highly sophisticated and large-scale operation for southeastern Wisconsin,” said James Bohn, assistant special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Sophisticated is an understatement. According to the story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, one of the three men charged in the operation had paid $18,737 for grow lights to a DEA informant. The group had purchased three homes, one in Oak Creek, one in Franklin and one in Sturtevant, but no one ever moved in. They set up the growing operations in the basements.
But it gets even more sophisticated one of the charged members of the ring had earned an electronics degree from Marquette University. He put that knowledge to use by tapping into WE Energies power lines to supply the houses with electricity. The man was able to bypass the meters, a task which requires advanced knowledge of the system. It was not until the power company did an energy audit that it realized something was wrong.
Neighbors were suspicious when equipment was moved into one of the houses. At one point, police were called, but no action was taken. The group was hoping to remain as inconspicuous as possible. But going into the Oak Creek house with large pots and soil got the attention of neighbors, especially since nobody appeared to be living in the house. When police arrived at one of the houses, after receiving a complaint, they noticed a window was open and mold was growing. The growers opened the window to allow the exchange of fresh air and carbon dioxide. At another house, all of the windows were covered and police observed that outside nails were rusting, a sign that a growing operation was present.
DEA officers, with assistance from two local police departments, raided the houses and came up with quite a haul. They removed over 2000 plants, vehicles, guns, jewelry and $20,000 cash. The video of the burning of the plants was featured on the evening news
Going a little deeper, two of the defendants owned a nail salon, and one used to own a Vietnamese restaurant, prompting law enforcement officials to look into those businesses as possible money laundering facilities.
The DEA said the drug growing operation was large for southern Wisconsin, but that implies it was not large in terms of what officials have found in other locations around the country. The five people in this case were caught and charged, but there are literally growing operations all over the country. How many operations go unnoticed, or manage to slip away from the law?
There is profit in the growing of marijuana, as those 2000 plants would yield nearly $5 million on the street. Where is the marijuana distributed? It finds its way into schools, playgrounds, grocery store parking lots, and anywhere there is a willing customer. This small operation, taking place in suburban neighborhoods, is a drop in the bucket, compared to the whole. But it was an important bust because the drugs won’t wind up in the hands of children, or in schools. Citizens, noticing that something was wrong with the house next door, called police. That’s exactly what has to happen.
Ned Wicker is the Addictions Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center.
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