Indoor pot factories sprout up

Alicia Chavez; arrested July 29

Gilroy Police officers tallied the third indoor pot bust in a
matter of one week, exemplifying what the department observes to be
a growing trend

in the nation,

according to GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.
As of Aug. 4, a trio of snuffed-out marijuana growing
operations
– one occurring in a house next to Gilroy High School – yielded
four arrests and $220,000 worth in contraband vegetation.
Gilroy Police officers tallied the third indoor pot bust in a matter of one week, exemplifying what the department observes to be a growing trend “in the nation,” according to GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.

As of Aug. 4, a trio of snuffed-out marijuana growing operations – one occurring in a house next to Gilroy High School – yielded four arrests and $220,000 worth in contraband vegetation. The investigations on Johnson Way, Church Street and Laurel Drive were executed by GPD officers and members of the GPD Anti-Crime Team, which includes a sergeant, corporal and four officers, according to Gallacinao.

Arrests have been made in two of the three incidents spanning July 29 through Aug. 4. The case involving a house on Johnson Way near GHS is still under investigation, according to Gallacinao.

Pot houses, he points out, present a serious safety threat to neighborhoods as criminals often tamper with PG&E electrical circuits to conceal illegal activities or steal power.

“This causes an increased potential for fire,” Gallacinao said. “The extreme humid conditions and concentrated liquids used to cultivate marijuana increases the risk of respiratory illness to residents and neighbors.”

The string of incidents is the latest local authorities have uncovered since a mid-November raid on an indoor pot garden on the 9100 block of Wren Avenue, Gallacinao recalled. The discovery of 300 mature marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $200,000 came to light after the Gilroy Fire Department responded to a 911 call regarding an extinguished fire. GFD personnel determined the fire was ignited by spliced electrical meter wires near the residence of 9140 Wren Avenue, causing a solid 24-hour power outage for surrounding residents.

In some circumstances, Gallacinao explained criminals will bypass their own PG&E meter completely. Pot growers don’t always skim power from their neighbors, he says.

“But in regards to people tapping into power, obviously it’s good to know your neighbors, and also just be aware of what your normal monthly PG&E bill would be,” he added.

Should any significant increases occur, Gallacinao said the best route is to contact PG&E directly and ask for a service technician to be sent to check on the building.

“Obviously there’s a lot of concerns involving fire and health dangers associated with marijuana gardens,” he said. “We want to make sure people are aware of what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

The recent string of pot busts are explained – incident by incident – below. 

Church Street

According to reports, a raid occurred at 8:58 p.m. Wednesday when the Gilroy Fire Department received calls of a residential fire located on the 6500 block of Church Street.

During the investigation, GFD personnel located multiple marijuana plants valued at $120,000 inside the house where San Jose resident Hoang Khang, a 34-year-old Asian male, “intentionally lit a fire within the residence’s garage,” according to reports.

The residence’s electrical power was not tampered with and did not cause the fire, according to the GFD.

After obtaining consent from Hoang, officers from the Gilroy Police Department searched the residence and seized more than 120 “starter” marijuana plants and cultivation equipment, according to reports.

Hoang was arrested and later booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for cultivation of marijuana, sales of marijuana and possession of narcotic paraphernalia.

Johnson Way, near Gilroy High

Following Wednesday’s incident, the GPD carried out a search warrant at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The investigation was executed by the Anti-Crime Team, which has been investigating the suspected illegal marijuana cultivation at a residence on the 600 block of Johnson Way directly adjacent to Gilroy High School.

All classes at GHS are set to resume on schedule in the next few weeks.

Although no pot was located, reports state detectives discovered evidence suggesting the residence at Johnson Way was used to cultivate marijuana.

Police say the suspect – who has not been named – likely processed the marijuana inside the residence prior to the search warrant being served.

With the assistance of PG&E, detectives confirmed someone had tampered with the residence’s electrical power to facilitate the illegal cultivation, according to reports.

Nobody was at the residence when the search warrant was served, police say.

As the investigation remains active, the GPD will not release the identity of the unnamed suspect at this time. Police do not believe these two incidents are related to each other, according to the GPD press release.

Laurel Drive

Prior to the above scenarios, GPD located firearms and more than 40 mature marijuana plants at 8:02 p.m., July 29 inside a residence on the 7700 block of Laurel Drive in Gilroy.

Reports state the plants have an estimated street value of $100,000.

According to a GPD press release, the discovery was made after officials responded to a 911 call regarding an active electrical fire on the same block. With the assistance of PG&E, reports state officials confirmed someone had tampered with electrical power of neighboring homes.

After obtaining a search warrant from a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge, reports state officers seized more than 40 marijuana plants, firearms, a quarter-pound of processed marijuana and marijuana sales paraphernalia.

Three suspects have been named in the investigation, including Veronica Chavez, 39; Alicia Chavez, 60; and Manuel Fonseca; 26. All live in Gilroy.

The three were booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail for cultivation of marijuana, sales of marijuana and criminal conspiracy, according to reports.

The GPD released this statement, “this type of indoor marijuana operation appears to be an increasing trend within the county. Community members should be aware of activity within their neighborhoods, to prevent the fire dangers and potential health hazards associated with indoor marijuana cultivation operations.”

The Johnson Way and Laurel Drive investigations are continuing and anyone who has information regarding either incident is urged to contact the Corporal Brian Dutton at (408) 846-0350. Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call WeTip at 1-800-782-7463 (1-800-78-Crime).

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