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Jury Indicts 3 in High-Tech Marijuana Farm Scheme

Times Staff Writer

A federal grand jury Friday indicted three North County residents on charges that they operated high-tech, automated marijuana farms in two Escondido warehouses.

Authorities say Dale Sparks and his wife, Julie Sparks, of San Marcos and James Noble of Escondido had assembled the most sophisticated indoor marijuana cultivation scheme ever uncovered in San Diego County.

Noble, 36, is charged with five felony drug counts. Dale Sparks, 48, and Julie Sparks, 30, face those allegations and additional charges of filing false income tax returns for the last three years.

Investigators from the county’s multi-agency Narcotics Task Force seized more than 3,500 high-grade marijuana plants valued at $6.5 million in raids last fall at the two warehouses.

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They also found a dazzlingly intricate, automated system for soilless marijuana cultivation, complete with water recycling and electrically timed fans set up to simulate breezes and carry pollen.

In a civil lawsuit filed last month in San Diego County Superior Court in Vista, San Diego Gas & Electric Co. alleged that the hydroponic farms operated on stolen electricity. The utility is seeking damages three times its estimated loss of $167,000.

The indictment says the Sparkses failed to report income from their business, J-E Industries, to the Internal Revenue Service, and instead told the IRS that Dale Sparks worked for a nonexistent yacht sales company. J-E Industries’ only legitimate trade was in “treasure scoops” for sifting through sand, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert May.

May said the three defendants have agreed to surrender Wednesday for arraignment in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

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