State and federal agents have arrested three men in a remote canyon outside Camarillo on charges of operating what investigators called the largest methamphetamine lab in Ventura County history.
Agents conducting the early morning raid Monday reported seizing six flasks containing 90 pounds of the nearly finished compound and numerous gallons of chemicals used to complete the manufacturing process.
An elaborate underground generator that supplied electricity to the drug-making operation also was dismantled, investigators said.
"This is tremendous for us," said Michael Digby, an agent with the Los Angeles Clandestine Lab Task Force, part of a federal and state operation that conducted the weeklong investigation. "It's almost 100 pounds of crank they were manufacturing and distributing in the Los Angeles area."
Digby said the drugs had a street value as high as $4 million.
The sophisticated laboratory was hidden in the Santa Rosa Valley in an isolated ravine north of Gerry Road, on property owned by lemon and avocado farmer William Worthington. Worthington will not be charged, officials said.
Digby said they uncovered the lab by watching known distribution points for the chemicals used for making the drug. He would not elaborate on the distributors, adding that "the people that sold the chemicals are under investigation."
Task force supervisor Gerald Walker said the drugs were "in the final cooking stage" when the task force arrived. "It was still boiling at the time we hit them."
Arrested on charges of manufacturing methamphetamine were Arturo Sanchez Zamora, 19, of Long Beach; Carlos Castro Martinez, 18, of Long Beach, and Geronimo Laya Calixtro, 32, a transient. They were booked into a federal detention facility in Los Angeles, agents said. Assistant U.S. Atty. Russell Petti said he filed charges against the three men.
Task force members took samples of the chemicals before turning the volatile ingredients over to a Los Angeles County hazardous materials team for destruction, said Walker, who described the suspects as "mid-level" drug manufacturers.
Walker said there was no telling how long the lab had been in operation, but said it was probably erected after the most recent winter storms.
"You usually can find some dumpage and make an educated guess, but with the rains up there, there's no way we can go back any farther than three weeks," he said.
The drug can be manufactured in about six hours, Digby said, adding that "they're capable of doing multiple cooks a week, and each cook is 100 pounds."
"The site was somewhat sophisticated," he added. "They camouflaged the lab from the air by putting foliage over it and they buried the generator and all of its surrounding wires underground."
The group was distributing the drug in "dozens of places" throughout the Los Angeles area and beyond, he said. "They would divvy it up, big time," Digby said.
Worthington, who lives on the 365-acre lemon and avocado farm where the lab was discovered, said he had no idea the lab was there.
He refused to allow a photographer onto the property Tuesday to photograph what was left of the laboratory.
Neighbors on Tuesday were surprised to learn that illegal drugs apparently were being manufactured nearly in their back yards.
"We didn't know anything about it," said Joy Gerry, who lives just down the street from Worthington. "I don't think you could even smell it from the top of the road. They were hidden back in a canyon."
The three suspects, who are being held without bail because they are considered flight risks, made an initial appearance in federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Petti said.