Busts of marijuana grow houses are growing in Chicago area

FruityBud

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Nothing appeared amiss at the pale green ranch house on South Aldine Street, though oddly, the landlord noted, the electricity bill was enormous.

The young female tenant walked her dog before leaving each morning for her job at a beauty salon. She kept the lawn tidy, chatted occasionally with neighbors and dropped off her rent check, always on time, at Mary Swanson's real estate office.

Only later did Swanson figure out why the utility bill was so high, after police swarmed the Elgin house on a September afternoon.

Her tenant was sheltering a marijuana-growing operation, with hundreds of plants sitting beneath high-power, commercial-grade lamps. Workers had torn out a laundry room, installed custom ventilation and water purification systems and set up insulated "staging areas," where plants were nurtured from seed to harvest, police said.

"I have been a landlord for a long time, and these people pulled the wool over my eyes," said Swanson, 47, whose tenant had blamed her $350 energy bill - three times that of her neighbors - on the air conditioning.

"I hadn't had any issues whatsoever," said Swanson, adding that her tenant's credit and background check came back clean. "I would drive by, and she would be out with her dog."

Elgin police ranked the drug bust as one of their largest, arresting five people after linking three more houses to the operation, all within the same west side neighborhood. Swanson owned two of them, which she said cost $18,000 to restore to their original condition.

Throughout the Chicago area, police have been aware of so-called grow houses and outdoor crops of less potent "ditch weed" for decades. But they are raiding more of the sophisticated indoor operations - with twice as many reported to a federal program in 2010 as in 2005.

Authorities say they believe the number of grow houses is on the rise, though much of their evidence is anecdotal, as there is no uniform method of reporting statistics. They have improved their ability to spot such houses, which manufacture highly potent marijuana that can fetch up to $5,000 per pound, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. That compares to 800 to $1,500 per pound for the more common product transported from Mexico, officials said.

"There is a definite demand for that type of marijuana," said DEA Special Agent Will Taylor, of Chicago. "It is a niche area. ... The typical outdoor marijuana will have a low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content in comparison to the indoor."

Some blame the bad economy for enticing a new breed of entrepreneurs into the pot-production field. Websites provide instructions on hydroponic planting techniques, equipment and nutrients to ensure the best grow. Meanwhile, marijuana for medical use has been legalized in 16 states, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Illinois legislators narrowly rejected a bill calling for the legalization of medical marijuana in May.

Those arrested for harvesting pot do not fit simple stereotypes. In Schaumburg, an exercise physiologist was arrested for growing more than 50 marijuana plants in his crawl space. His case was dismissed on July 28 when a judge ruled that there was insufficient probable cause for the search warrant, his lawyer said.

"This isn't your average street-level drug dealer because it takes such a large initial investment," said Daniel Linn, 28, executive director of NORML's Illinois chapter. "It takes a skill set, as far as the gardening goes. It isn't as simple as planting tomatoes in the backyard and letting rain fall on it."

Cannabis is one of the only drugs whose value has increased over the years, officials said, as buyers seek specific types of marijuana, such as seedless sinsemilla.

In one case, a group operating out of Wisconsin "were cloning their plants," said Sgt. Andrew Douvris with the Cook County Sheriff's Department. "Some of these guys had been doing this for 20 years, and they had a following."

Pot growers often rent homes in moderate to upscale neighborhoods. Most prefer to rent, rather than buy, a home to avoid losing their assets if they are caught, Linn said.

Such growers usually try to avoid scrutiny, keeping the house and lawn maintained and traffic activity minimal, he said. Although they might seem harmless, police say, the grow houses pose hazards to neighbors. Often police find other drugs and weapons during their raids. Offenders, too, will divert or steal electricity, which can be dangerous, according to ComEd.

"A lot of times, the neighbors will call and say, 'Hey this doesn't look right,'" said Sgt. John Koziol, with the McHenry County Sheriff's Department. "A lot of houses we have hit have a lot of visible mold outside the house. Some were $400,000 to $500,000 houses."

Police have started to seek help from code enforcement officers, who might notice tipoffs like strong odors, extra exhaust fans, heavy condensation on the windows or electric meters that appear to have been tampered with. With a search warrant, police can also use a thermal imaging device that, when pointed at a house, can detect heat outdoors that is radiated from the intense lights inside.

At the South Aldine address, neighbors were stunned the afternoon when dozens of police raided the home.

"All night, they were hauling equipment out of the house," said Mark Nelson, who lives across the street.

In a way, he said, he was sorry to see the former tenants leave. He preferred their presence over others, such as a family that raised pit bulls.

"They were the most quiet," Nelson said. "You never saw people coming and going. You'd see her go to work."

Gloria Koller, 52, who lives a few houses away, agreed that she noticed nothing unusual about the house. Children ride their bikes along tree-lined sidewalks outside two- and three-bedroom homes that cost $1,100 to $1,400 a month to rent.

"One day, there was police in front of there," she said. "We heard it had something to do with drugs. We were like, seriously?"

Inside, the tenants had invested in significant changes to the house, said Swanson, the Elgin landlord.

"They ripped out our laundry room, they ripped out plumbing," she said. "After we thought we had the houses back together, we had a main drain issue. They had blocked off one of the drains. One of them, we literally had to dig up the front yard. It never ended."

The tenant had cut a hole in the basement ceiling to make way for a large ventilation tube that helped remove the steamy air because otherwise, "you are going to smell cannabis coming out of the house," Lullo said.

Staging areas separated plants by their size, as they were transplanted from small cups into bigger pots over time. When the plants were ready for harvesting, the caretakers hung them to dry or used screens as drying racks, balanced on upside-down paper cups, police said.

The idea usually is to have the plants in different stages of production at all times, so some are always ready to sell, year-round, police said.

Elgin police declined to say how they learned about the operation. In other cases, informants have tipped off police, who then stake out a house and follow people who come and go. Sometimes, those visitors lead them to other grow houses, as they are hired to go from house to house to water the plants, trim leaves or package and deliver the finished product, investigators say.

Marijuana growers typically don't sell the drugs directly from the grow house in order to avoid traffic and subsequent scrutiny, officials said.

The main tenant of the South Aldine house, Gina Julian, 32, pleaded guilty to production of cannabis in June, according to Kane County court records. Louis Lomber, 63; Mary Friedley, 58; and Christopher Olsen, 36, also pleaded guilty to unlawful possession with intent to deliver, among other charges. Each was sentenced to community service, probation and fines. Another defendant, Michael Russell, 35, still faces charges of producing cannabis and interfering with a utility, according to court records.

In Illinois, it is a felony to own or produce more than five cannabis plants, according to state law. Penalties increase depending on the number of plants. If an offender has no criminal history, the law calls for a sentence of probation.

Friedley declined to comment, and the others could not be reached.

Swanson said she continues to struggle with the fallout from the clandestine growing operation. Police questioned her before determining she was not involved in the illegal activity. She also learned that, because tenants at both houses had tampered with the electric meters, she could be held responsible for stolen electricity.

She said that she had been inside the South Aldine home three months before the police raid and did not see or smell anything unusual. She asked to see the basement but said that Julian told her that her dog was downstairs.

"You don't go looking for trouble when you have someone taking care of your property and they pay their bill on time," Swanson said.

"Ironically, the landscaping hasn't looked as good since they left."

Signs That The House Next Door Might Have Gone To Pot:

-Strong odor coming from house, sometimes skunk-like.
-Windows are darkened or show excessive condensation.
-Mold on the exterior of the home.
-Jury-rigged electricity box.
-Occupants are rarely seen, or seen only for a few hours at a time.
-Little to no trash put out on pick-up day.
-A humming electrical sound coming from the home.
-In winter, there is no snow on the roof or an unusual amount of steam coming from exterior vents.
-Tall fences, chained gates or guard dog signs.

hxxp://tinyurl.com/3fwebf3
 

BlueNose

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hmmm, I have mixed feelings about this one. I can only assume that the tenant would have restored the house to original prior to leaving if the grow wasn't busted. As for the drain issue, that may not have happened if they weren't raided.

Signs That The House Next Door Might Have Gone To Pot:
this phrase bugs the piss out of me. It has a very bad tone to it.

"They ripped out our laundry room, they ripped out plumbing," she said. "After we thought we had the houses back together, we had a main drain issue.

-sounds pretty exaggerated
 

Hick

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martin okumu said:
i sell weed good stuff i need buyer @cheap price
:rofl:...:rofl:....:rofl:... straight from the evidence locker I bet...:hubba:
 

pcduck

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Hick said:
:rofl:...:rofl:....:rofl:... straight from the evidence locker I bet...:hubba:
Been known to happen quite a few times around here
 
R

Roddy

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which manufacture highly potent marijuana that can fetch up to $5,000 per pound,

Dry state, higher prices....but really??
 

Irish

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i have lots of good friends in wisconsin so its not that dry...:cool:
 

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