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DEA: Massive marijuana farm linked to Mexican cartel

Published August 25, 2012 7:29 am

DEA • Huge pot plot has links to Mexican drug cartel La Familia.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A multi-agency narcotics strike force descended on a massive marijuana farm in remote Washington County on Friday, and officers expected to work into the weekend to remove thousands of plants, some 12 feet high.

The illicit farm, linked to an infamous Mexican drug cartel, was about four miles west of Interstate 15 in the Virgin River Gorge area, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The strike force, including DEA officers on the ground as well as DEA-supplied helicopters, Washington County deputies and other law officers, began the raid just after sunrise.

DEA spokeswoman Sue Thomas, who accompanied the task force on the raid, said it took four hours of hiking over searing hot, steep and rugged terrain to reach the site. The strike force found the site abandoned and no arrests were made, but Thomas said agents and deputies were stunned to find a crop roughly estimated between 2,000 to 6,000 plants spread over 10 acres.

"It was a horrible hike getting in here," Thomas said Friday afternoon. "Just horrific terrain and at one point waist-deep water. It was so rugged we were surprised no one broke a leg."

Ironically, among the few signs of recent human habitation at the pot grow were a pair of crutches and a discarded leg cast.

"Someone had gone up there on crutches. We have no idea how they did that. Then they cut off their leg cast. Drawn on the cast was a picture of an AK-47 machine gun and the word 'Michoacán,' " Thomas said.

The leg cast artwork is associated with La Familia Michoacana, a Mexican drug cartel and organized crime syndicate based in the western Mexican state of Michoacán.

"It looks like [the site] was abandoned about a week and a half ago," Thomas said. "We don't know why, if they ran out of water or got spooked by planes flying overhead or just what."

Earlier Friday, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher told the Spectrum newspaper that law enforcement had "known about [the site] for three years, but it has taken this amount of time to find it. We found it by luck with DEA helicopters."

remims@sltrib.com