By Jennifer Madrigal
Eastvale – In the last few years, more than 50 marijuana grow houses have been located, investigated and ultimately shut down by the work of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in conjunction with Eastvale’s Special Enforcement Team. Many of these houses were located with the assistance of the community, who have listened and followed the “How to Spot a Marijuana House” tips and diligently called in their suspicions to the Sheriff. So while it may seem to the public that Eastvale has been inundated with “drug houses and crime”, that really is not the case.
What makes a marijuana grow house, and how do they keep ending up in our community? This is one of the most commonly asked questions with one of the simplest answers: size and availability. Eastvale has a multitude of large homes, and with the economic downturn, many of these homes were left abandoned or were quickly purchased by investors. Unfortunately, a lot of these owners didn’t take the time to do the proper background checks on tenants or follow up with property checks, to ensure that their homes were being used properly. According to Sergeant Davis of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, “Often after a bust, when we try to locate the renters (if they were not there and arrested at the time) we find that the owners were given inaccurate paperwork, fake identifications and were paid in cash. As a result, the trail goes cold.” The actual homeowners are then responsible to pay for all the damages done to these homes. As Davis describes, “These homes get ruined inside with mold and water damage and an absolute disregard for the property”.
The large Eastvale houses enable the full process of marijuana cultivation to occur because there is sufficient space. According to the Assistant Police Chief of Eastvale, Lieutenant Mike Yates, the homes in Eastvale have the room to run the entire operation. “There are even a few guys that were setting up these houses to prepare them to become grow houses by circumventing the electricity and thus providing the processors with a ‘pre-made’ facility,” he says. Bypassing the electricity causes an extreme fire hazard, which was witnessed firsthand when a property on Craigburn Circle in Eastvale caught on fire and was later discovered to house over 1,100 marijuana plants. Besides being a fire and safety hazard, the circumventing of the electricity also robs Edison of thousands of dollars in stolen electricity and destroys the house. The electronics inside the walls of the home are ripped out by cutting into the dry wall. The criminals rip open the plastic and tap into the electric system, basically running their own electric panels and bypassing the original system. According to Davis, it’s difficult for Edison to spot these low or non-using homes because the grid is so large, and so many of these homes are on solar power and using very little electricity, or are abandoned or for sale.
The process of tracking down these houses, identifying and confirming them, and ultimately shutting them down, is something that the Eastvale Special Enforcement Team has gotten pretty good at doing. Sergeant Davis explained how he was fortunate enough to go on a ride-along with two set team officers who have a unique way of finding these grow houses – with their noses. They basically drive around with their windows open and are able to smell the marijuana. They then narrow down the smell to a few houses and call Edison to check the grid for bypass possibility. Sure enough, they have been correct. Search warrants have been issued and houses have ultimately been busted.
But what happens to the criminals after the bust? Are they being prosecuted, and where are they coming from? Yates has noticed that many of the suspects are from the San Gabriel Valley and cities like Monterey and Alhambra are drawn to Eastvale by the size of the homes and because, “there simply is enough space to house an entire operation”. Many different people are involved in each house and they often can be seen coming and going. While a house is being investigated and activity is being monitored, every effort to catch the criminals in “the act” is made. Davis explains that if the suspects are in the house during the bust, they are arrested and the case is turned over to the DA for prosecution. However, if they are not in the home, an investigation is continued to try and locate suspects; but when owners are not aware of who is really renting it becomes difficult. When they are found and arrested, suspects are being prosecuted for felonies and doing jail time – suspects like family members Vinh Cuomg and John Hoa Tran, who were both arrested on Jan. 14 for cultivating marijuana at an Eastvale home on Iris Court. Officers seized 398 marijuana plants, five pounds of processed marijuana and packaging material. Additionally, electricity was being bypassed around the meter, causing a serious fire hazard and resulting in approximately $6,000 a month in stolen electricity. Both were charged with felony counts of marijuana cultivation, denied probation, and are awaiting sentencing.
So while the Eastvale Special Enforcement Team continues to canvas neighborhoods looking for these houses and driving them out of our community, Sergeant Davis wants the community to know that they all appreciate the diligence of the Eastvale citizens in calling in tips and being aware. With a community as savvy in social media as Eastvale is, and with the commitment of its citizens to maintaining a safer community, hopefully these marijuana houses will soon become a trend of the past.