Angeles National Forest pot farms raided

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Authorities have arrested 19 people and destroyed 300,000 marijuana plants in an operation that targeted marijuana cultivation in the Angeles National Forest, a Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman said today.

The seizure was part of a three-day operation in a rugged stretch of forestland in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Those arrested have been booked on suspicion of marijuana cultivation and weapons violations, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca.

Authorities seized nine weapons, three homes and $500,000 in cash in connection with the investigation.

The seizures by the sheriff's Marijuana Enforcement Team in concert with federal and state law enforcement officials, were more than triple the previous record of 83,000 plants seized in that area, Whitmore said.

It also marked a trend toward more organized criminal enterprises in outdoor pot-farming operations.

Whitmore said illegal marijuana cultivation countywide is a $1.2 billion enterprise.

"We are seeing it change from individual users to criminal entrepreneurs supported by armed foot soldiers in these very remote public lands," Whitmore said.

Sheriff's officials said that marijuana growing can damage the environment. "These grows not only use chemicals that can pollute streams," Whitmore said. "They create mounds of human waste and thousands of pounds of camp trash."

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