Citizen complaints regarding environmental issues led to three search warrants on five pieces of property in the North County resulting in five arrests and the eradication of approximately 1,600 marijuana plants.
Lt. Duane Little, an investigator with the CDFW, said the investigation discovered 70 to 80 environmental crimes on three parcels associated with the marijuana grows in addition to the alleged charges of unlawful cultivation of marijuana for sale and unlawful cultivation of marijuana and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony. More than 15,000 marijuana plants were eradicated. He said the charges alleged at the other two parcels were similar — approximately 28 environmental crimes and 350 marijuana plants eradicated on both properties.
“There’s substantial evidence they were illegally cultivating” in violation of the county’s ordinance, Little said. “All of the environmental charges were triggered under Proposition 64,” California’s Marijuana Legalization Initiative, approved by the voters in November 2016, which makes the cultivation a felony.”
Little said the water violations might have threatened habitat for endangered species.
“Water is a valuable commodity anywhere, but it’s especially valuable in Lassen County,” Little said. “In this particular case, wetlands were being dredged up or impounded, streams were being trenched, litter and sentiments were being discharged into the streams … We realize how important water is in the high desert, and any substantial impact on it will be duly investigated.”
According to a statement from the Lassen County Sheriff ’s Office, “On June 22, 2017 the California Department of Fish and Wildlife obtained three search warrants for five properties on Secret Creek, on State Route 395 north of the town of Wendel. The Lassen County Sheriff ’s Office and CDFW had received complaints about marijuana cultivation activities reducing water flows in the creek.
“On June 23, 2017 personnel from the CDFW, environmental personnel from multiple agencies, LCSO, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service served the search warrants.
Approximately 1,600 plants were eradicated, approximately 80 environmental violations were identified and three firearms were seized at the scene. The environmental staff said that this was one of the worst sites they have ever seen.”
Five people were arrested on multiple felony charges involving cultivation of marijuana and the associated environmental damage which included unlawful grading, unlawful diversion, and impediment of state waters: Michael Lo, 53, of Burnsville, Minnesota; Chao Thao, 73, of Oroville, California; Wang Thao, 22, of Fresno, California; Eric Vang, 51, of Hampshire, Minnesota; Thong Vang, 57, of Fresno, California; and the investigation “will likely result in criminal filings on additional people,” according to the statement.
All five arrestees were booked into the Lassen County Jail and they each posted $30,000 bail after being booked.
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