It was just a small tip but it led to a great big drug bust, and Sgt. Jim Tracy of the Utah County sheriff's department says he could use more tips just like it.
Tracy won't disclose what the tip was. He will say that once the sheriff's department got it, deputies began a five week information gathering operation that culminated in a raid on a Pleasant Grove residence, where a large scale marijuana cultivation enterprise was under way.Inside the three-bedroom home, officers found approximately 300 plants in various stages of growth. In one room, plant starts were being cloned from a 5-foot tall mother plant. In another room, 4-inch PVC pipe had been used to construct a hydroponic growing frame; in the bathroom, water was aerated and fertilized in large garbage containers before being sent to the hydroponic setup. The third bedroom contained more mature plants, ranging in size from 6 inches to 5 feet in height, growing in containers, while a sophisticated track lighting system moved overhead like the sun.
Tracy estimates that $40,000 in dried marijuana was confiscated during the raid; the indoor marijuana farm could have produced profits of $250,000 a year. The marijuana was being shipped out of state, Tracy said.
Tracy said the occupants had only lived in the home for about five months, and had taken great care to shield their operation from neighbors.
"The neighbors had no idea what was going on," said Tracy. "They were flabbergasted. They knew they (the occupants) were reclusive, but they had no idea. We suspect that much of the equipment (in the home) was brought in during evening hours."
But, Tracy said, there were clues that might have tipped neighbors off to questionable activities at the residence: reclusivity, secretiveness, the fact that the occupants were rarely seen outside the home. Tracy said residents who suspect questionable activities in their neighborhoods should not hesitate to call the sheriff or local police department.
"One thousand sets of eyes are more effective than the 20 we have in the department," Tracy said. "If the caller doesn't want to be identified and just wants to give information, we're happy to keep it confidential."
In such a situation, a caller would be classified as a confidential informant; his or her identity would remain known only to the enforcement agency and the caller would not tes-tify in court were an investigation to result in arrests or charges being filed.
"Once we get the police officer into the stream (gathering his own evidence) so he can testify, we can exclude other witnesses," Tracy said.
Tracy said last week's drug raid exemplifies a new attitude on the part of the sheriff's department.
"Our philosophy has been focused on those people who are major distributors," Tracy said. "By going after major distributors, legally and financially, you dry up the source of illicit narcotics. The administration here has given us some time and structured us so we can go after the higher level dealer."