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Officials uncover another pot house

Times Staff Writers

Authorities on Monday discovered an eighth huge marijuana-harvesting center in an upscale home in the eastern San Gabriel Valley suburbs, with some officials wondering whether the pot ring is getting more sophisticated.

The latest pot house was found amid million-dollar homes on Farben Drive in Diamond Bar, a suburb about 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

The criminal ring that ran the house made sure to keep the lawn and garden well manicured, and neighbors said they had no idea the house was being used to grow drugs.

“It is a very, very nice home in an upscale neighborhood with two whole stories dedicated to marijuana,” said Lt. Jim Whitten of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Narcotics Bureau. “Typically these homes have lawns that are untended. It is one of the signs we tell people to look for. But in this case it was a nice, well-kept lawn. But with all the publicity, people are beginning to notice these homes.”

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L.A. County Sheriff’s officials have been stunned by the amount of pot found in Diamond Bar and surrounding suburbs in the last few months -- with estimates approaching a value of $50 million. Detectives believe the houses might be tied to an Asian organized crime ring.

Frustrated city leaders are wondering when it will end.

“We have already found three more of these than we thought there were in our quiet town,” said Diamond Bar Mayor Steve Tye. “By the time we hit five or six, or double digits, these people will get the picture. I don’t see how a business can afford to take that many hits before they close up shop and decide to try another business model.”

The recent pot raids have made some homeowners, who might otherwise be grateful to live on a quiet street, instead suspicious when a neighbor’s house is too quiet.

“What’s not going on that should be going on?” asked Tye. “If there are no kids being taken to school, if homeowners are not coming and going, that’s now cause for concern.”

Lillian Ferguson, 49, who lives across the street from the most recently discovered house, said she’s now considering reconvening the Neighborhood Watch group in light of the raid.

“They were pretty quiet neighbors,” she said of the occupants of the house at 742 Farben Drive, a two-story stucco building with wood facing that was sold six or seven months ago. “We would just see a couple Asian men come in and out, but they didn’t call any attention to themselves. Everybody on the block’s just blown away.”

A suspicious-looking man sitting in a Ford Mustang at midday Monday, who later turned out to be an undercover police officer staging the raid, aroused more suspicion than the pot house, she said.

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The home, like others, was refitted to allow for a state-of-the-art heating and lighting system to nurture the crop.

As investigators began their search, two men arrived at the home in rapid succession and were arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana, Whitten said.

Authorities identified the men as Ken Ho, 27, and Chuan Zhou, 42. Each was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail.

According to law enforcement officials, California is in the midst of a major boom in large-scale marijuana cultivation operations run from inside homes, with authorities confiscating more than $100 million worth of pot in the last year alone.

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Authorities are trying to determine whether the Southern California busts are connected to a similar suburban pot business in Northern California uncovered last year. That operation was tied to an Asian organized crime group based in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency said.

Three pot-farm homes in Diamond Bar, two in Rowland Heights, one in Chino Hills and one in Pomona have been found. Officials made at least six arrests in connection with those houses.

Seizures in middle-class and upscale suburbs have occurred as pot growers have taken advantage of cheap home financing and minimal credit checks to purchase homes and remodel them into sophisticated farms for quick profits.

Although indoor plants are smaller than their outdoor counterparts, they can be harvested more frequently, so they yield a similar quantity.

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richard.winton@latimes.com

tony.barboza@latimes.com


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