Friday, September 7, 2012

Unwitting Landlords Left To Deal With Wreckage As Raid On Extensive Indoor Grow House Operation Bags Two Dozen Vietnamese Nationals, 14,000 Pot Plants

In Spring, Texas, the Houston Chronicle reports:

  • Large holes cut into the ceiling of almost every room of the 3,200-square-foot house on Mandarin Glen Circle in Spring were the first clue. Blowers were installed to push suspiciously pungent air into the attic.

    Then there was the potting soil covering floors, the makeshift electrical panels powering hundreds of 600-watt lights, the bathrooms converted into watering stations.

    They were all signs of a suburban dream home turned into a nightmare for its owners, a house in a quiet neighborhood transformed into a sophisticated grow house for a major Houston-area marijuana trafficking operation taken down by agents last week.

    Owners Court Riddle and his wife, Candace, could not believe the damage the marijuana cultivators wreaked on their two-story rental. "This is like a bad movie," said Candace, 32, as she and her two sons pulled down wire racks used to dry the marijuana.

    It was a heart-breaking scene being repeated for property owners at 40 rental homes targeted in raids in Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend counties. Two dozen Vietnamese nationals were arrested, and nearly 14,000 marijuana plants confiscated in the raid.
  • The ring stole electricity from local utilities by digging trenches and tapping directly into underground power lines running to the home. This not only saves large amounts of money, but made it harder to detect their 24/7 power use because they wired around the house meter.
  • The raids last week targeted 60 locations, including two commercial sites where the organization was storing and packaging the marijuana. Of the 60 addresses, they found active cultivation in 40. Earlier seizures of 14 other grow houses the Vietnamese organization operated turned up 5,000 more plants, although details of those operations were not disclosed.
  • The Riddles learned that the young Vietnamese woman with two children - who in January signed a two-year lease and were paying $1,850 a month - never lived in their home. Court Riddle, a 35-year-old minister, figures the cleanup to his property will cost $15,000.

    The brick home-turned-marijuana greenhouse suffered through 120-degree temperatures that softened the walls. Mold also was starting to grow.

    "Now we're left with trying to get it ready to lease it out or sell, and you know what the market is like," he said. "We may have to go into foreclosure."
  • From the outside, they look like upscale homes in the suburbs, but inside criminals were hard at work. Now the people who own the rental houses in Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties are learning the real details about who signed the lease.

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