A federal grand jury in Phoenix has indicted 14 men accused of operating a multimillion-dollar network that allegedly dug high-tech subterranean marijuana farms beneath desert land in the Antelope Valley and Arizona.
The indictment, released Thursday, is the first issued since federal drug agents last month discovered the highly organized ring, which was allegedly headed by construction contractors. The operation is a major, previously unknown supplier of marijuana to California, as well as other states including New York, authorities have said.
Federal investigators and sheriff’s deputies have raided four underground farms equipped with elaborate, automated growing systems, two in the Antelope Valley and two in Bullhead City, Ariz. They have seized 23,000 marijuana plants valued at $77 million.
Authorities have also raided two homes in Lancaster and in the Barstow area where they said new indoor farms were being built.
Investigators said the case, which has spurred a new law enforcement focus on the movement of growers from Northern California outdoor plantations to indoor sites in Southern California, will probably result in more arrests and charges.
“The amounts are massive,” Assistant U.S. Atty. James Lacey in Phoenix said of the amount of drugs seized thus far. “It could be this thing evolves further.”
Ten of those named in the indictment are already in custody, including 45-year-old Frank Edward Gegax, the Lancaster plumbing contractor alleged to have financed and supervised the operation of each farm on properties owned by “front men.”
Gegax and his brothers--fellow contractors Michael and Alan Gegax, ages 49 and 44--are charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and two counts of possession of marijuana in connection with a farm near Lancaster and the two Arizona farms. Facing the same charges are three brothers--David Larson, 28, Daniel Larson, 26, and Donald Larson, 32, of Bullhead City,--and their cousin, Robert Benson, 28, of the Bullhead City area.
The indictment charges Richard F. Yerger, 28, the owner of the ranch house east of Lancaster where investigators recovered 8,000 plants from a concrete bunker, with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The three men who allegedly worked as caretakers at the farms were each charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. One of those men also was charged with possession.
Alan Gegax and three other suspects indicted are still at large, authorities said.
The indicted suspects face between 15 to 25 years in prison if convicted, Lacey said. Arraignment has been set for Wednesday.
An attorney for Yerger said he believes his client is innocent. No attorney could be reached for Frank Gegax, who will be transferred from Los Angeles County Jail to federal custody next week along with Yerger and two of the caretakers. Attorneys for the other defendants also could not be reached for comment.
The indictment does not mention one of the Antelope Valley sites, a farm where 2,500 plants were recovered beneath a newly built house, owned by Yerger’s father, Richard E. Yerger. He has not been arrested or charged. Investigators are still trying to determine how that operation fit into the network, authorities said, and new charges may be filed.