By Teresa Holloway
EAST TEXAS – Kaylie Lavorgne of the Texas Attorney General’s Office answered that query, “If there is any possible ongoing investigation, we cannot comment on it. We cannot confirm or deny that.”
More than $40 million dollars worth of marijuana crops have been harvested in the East Texas area in the last month.
With the exception of Smith County, no suspects have been apprehended by local law enforcement. Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said the man arrested Sept. was Erick Cruz-Olemando, 31, of Guerrero, Mexico.
Olemando is being held on an Immigration and Customs detainer. State and Federal charges are likely pending the investigation.
The recent major operations in Anderson, Houston, Van Zandt, Henderson, Leon and other counties have been joint task forces working together with information from a suspected federal source.
The rapid deployment of the units, the congregation of different levels of government operatives, federally marked mobile headquarters vehicles and aircraft at staging areas answer most of the questions.
Even though the Attorney General’s Office cannot confirm or deny, as is standard procedure for investigations, photographic evidence is not so vague.
Recently, several civilian photos of that top-level drug interdiction equipment have begun to seep onto the internet. Most of the pictures were taken at a distance through long-range lenses but the vehicles and helicopters are clearly marked.
Federal agency reticence aside, successful destruction of multi-million dollar sized crops in different areas of East Texas only bodes well for the residents.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor explained, “These are not small time growers. These are cartel grows. The money from these drugs helps fund other illicit and dangerous activities, drug running, sex trafficking, gun running and other drug development and distribution.”
Taylor said his agency is using overhead photography and assistance from federal sources and many agencies are sharing information to sustain the destruction pace of these operations.
More information cannot be revealed until the investigative procedures and operations are complete.
In the last two months, drug grow sites have been located and destroyed in Upshur, Sabine, Van Zandt, Houston, Anderson, Smith and Henderson counties and more have been targeted, according to officials.
These multi-level task forces have a precedent. The Drug Enforcement Agency has operated a Domestic Cannabis Eradication and Suppression Program (DCE/SP) in the US since 1979. The program has rapidly expanded to all 50 states in support of local law enforcement efforts to eradicate marijuana grows.
According to federal websites, this is the only stateside operation specifically targeting domestic grow sites.
Large cultivated areas have become increasingly common on US soil. According to the DEA website, more than 25 operations took place each in 2014 and 2015.
The DCE/SP was responsible for the eradication of 3,932,201 cultivated outdoor cannabis plants and 325,019 indoor plants for a total of 4,257,220 marijuana plants in 2015 alone according to the DEA website.
The agency claimed more than 6,000 arrests and seized more than $29 million in assets from the growers. The program also removed 4,300 weapons from the hands of these criminals.
Officials speculate the intensive stateside operations have increased due to heightened border security and customs checks. It has become difficult to cross the Mexico-US borders carrying illegal goods, so Cartel industries are located and using untended patches of land in the US.
Neither the Attorney General’s office nor the DEA would comment on an ongoing investigation, but local law enforcement agencies continue to eradicate millions of dollars in illegal drugs.
By Teresa Holloway