Federal and local authorities have arrested 14 Chinese nationals in connection with a roughly 2,400-plant illegal marijuana grow discovered earlier this week in Garfield County.
Deputy Walt Stowe, of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, says the outdoor operation was on private property a half-mile from Interstate 70 between the towns of Silt and Rifle.
The plants — which were mature and some more than 5 feet tall — were hidden behind a fence on several acres of land.
Stowe said the arrests were made on Monday by the Drug Enforcement Administration and a regional drug task force. The marijuana was then seized on Tuesday after authorities obtained a search warrant for the property.
A DEA official said the grow operation was discovered after a citizen tip led investigators to pull over a U-Haul truck linked to the site on Monday in which they found 3,900 pounds of pot. The subsequent investigation led to the arrests and discovery of the growing marijuana. Half of those arrested were in the country illegally, the official said.
The arrests and pot plant seizure were first reported by The Post Independent.
The 14 taken into custody are being held at the Garfield County jail and could be facing federal charges. Their names were not immediately released.
Stowe said investigators are looking into whether the group were victims of labor trafficking and had been forced to work at the pot operation.
“These people didn’t really know what they were doing,” Stowe said. “They were just working.”
The DEA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because an investigation into the case remains ongoing, said more suspects in the case are being sought and that investigators are working to uncover the organizational structure of the operation.
Officials were in the process on Wednesday of tracking down the owners of the land where the marijuana was being grown.
The marijuana was removed from the site by the “truck-load,” Stowe said.
“We just don’t know a whole lot right now,” he said.
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