Narcotics detectives arrested a 61-year-old Palmdale man Wednesday on charges that he built a sophisticated marijuana farm under the Mojave Desert, a lone-wolf operation inspired by his son’s involvement with a nationwide ring that constructed several such farms in California and Arizona, investigators said.
Richard E. Yerger Sr. was taken into custody at his residence in the 36200 block of Camares Drive by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department detectives on suspicion of constructing and operating an underground farm in Llano, a remote community east of Pearblossom in the Antelope Valley.
The farm, which apparently had been in operation less than a year, was capable of generating up to $100 million a year in profits, detectives said.
When detectives knocked on Yerger’s door, he opened it and said, “Yeah, I kind of expected you guys to show up,” Detective Jeff Moore said.
His arrest brought to 20 the number of people in custody or named in federal indictments following the discovery of what sheriff’s and federal narcotics investigators said were five high-tech underground marijuana farms.
The other four farms--one in Lancaster, one under construction near Barstow and two near Bullhead City, Ariz.--allegedly supplied a multimillion-dollar nationwide marijuana sales network that investigators said was headed by Frank Gegax, a Lancaster contractor held on federal charges.
The Llano plantation was raided Nov. 16 by narcotics detectives, a day after they raided the larger underground farm in Lancaster.
Evidence seized at the Lancaster farm--on a site owned by Yerger’s son, Richard F. Yerger Jr., 28--led them to the farm in Llano, about 20 miles away, authorities said. The younger Yerger was one of 14 people named in a federal grand jury indictment returned in Phoenix.
Narcotics detectives investigating both farms said the elder Yerger was not part of the bigger network, with which his son was involved. Moore described the father, a contractor who once owned his own Lancaster firm, as a man in financial trouble who observed the lucrative possibilities of his son’s business.
“Basically, he started up his own operation based on his knowledge” of the Lancaster farm, Moore said. “His thing is kind of a spinoff.”
Authorities seized more than 4,000 plants ranging in size from seedlings to 18 inches at the Llano farm, located in a one-story, three-bedroom yellow house at 31440 Largo Vista Road, more than a mile from a paved highway.
The plants were cultivated in a hydroponic, or soil-less garden, growing in nutrient-rich liquids, complete with automatic irrigation and fertilization systems. “They were very knowledgeable of hydroponics,” Moore said. “They’d done their homework.”
Moore said the elder Yerger, who did not live at the Llano farm, bought the property for the sole purpose of cultivating marijuana.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen L. Cooley said the elder Yerger, who was being held in lieu of $2-million bail at the Antelope Valley sheriff’s station, would be arraigned today on charges of cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. Cooley said he will speak this week with federal prosecutors, who may seek a separate federal indictment.