LAKE LOS ANGELES — A multi-agency law enforcement operation with more than 400 personnel cleared numerous illegal cartel-operated marijuana cultivation sites in Lake Los Angeles Tuesday morning, in what Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva called the largest operation ever to take place in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Multiple bureaus from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were involved. Also involved in the operation were the Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and sheriff’s personnel from Kern, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, Villanueva said at an afternoon press conference.
“We’re going to send a loud and clear message to all the cartels in the illegal operations: Your days are over here and you need to pack up and leave, or we’re going to find you,” Villanueva said.
He said they have received numerous complaints from residents about how the illegal marijuana cultivation sites were impacting the community to the point of putting some farmers out of business because they could no longer afford the water.
“We’re estimating it takes about, 2020 numbers alone, 150 million gallons of water for that harvest,” Villanueva said. “In the high desert water is precious. We have alfalfa farmers, potato and carrot farmers and seeing them go out of business to support illegal marijuana ... which enriches the cartels, is something we’re not going to tolerate at all.”
Villanueva added that in 2020 the department’s narcotics detectives identified 150 illegal marijuana grows in the desert. That number has since grown to more than 500 sites.
“As you can see, there were some people who were very, very busy during the pandemic,” he said.
To Villanueva’s right, during the press conference, were two large dump trucks filled with marijuana seized in the morning’s raids. As he spoke, a helicopter carrying another load of marijuana flew past the public works yard where the press conference was held.
Not only did the number of illegal grows increase, but the size increased. The average size per grow increased from eight green houses to 15, with some as large as 74, including the site bulldozed by authorities Tuesday morning.
“Violent crime is part of the trade for the cartels; it has been associated with these illegal grows,” Villanueva said.
In 2020, there were two murders in the high desert associated with the illegal grows. In March, a murder victim was found buried in the desert near Lake Los Angeles.
“The suspects wanted in connection with the murder operated an illegal marijuana grow right up here in Lake Los Angeles,” Villanueva said.
In April, a robbery at an illegal indoor cannabis cultivation site resulted in a shoot-out between the on-site security guards and one of the robbery suspects, he said.
“We’re going to continue after that, until we get to the total of 500, until there’s not a single marijuana grow left standing here in the high desert,” Villanueva said.
Congressman Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, thanked the sheriff for having the courage and the resolve to pull together the operation. The Congressman also blamed the Biden Administration’s policies.
“To our president and to our vice president, this is what happens when you don’t secure the border,” he said. “We’re not in Sinaloa, Mexico right now. We’re 300 miles away from the border and we have one of the largest illegal drug operations happening in the backyard high desert of Los Angeles (County).”
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, thanked Villanueva “for having the courage to take this on in such a profound manner.”
“I promise you, that no place in the country has orchestrated such an assault against this illicit market,” he said.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex. Parris said the operation destroyed an estimated $380 million in infrastructure and product.
“Nobody takes a hit like that and just accepts it” he said. “But the message to the cartels is very clear: You cross that line in the sand and come into Antelope Valley, we will take everything you have and that’s what we’ve done today, that’s what we will continue to do to the rest of the month. And If you come back we will do it again.”
Charles F. Bostwick, assistant field deputy for Supervisor Kathryn Barger, read a statement from her because she was in Los Angeles, attending the Board of Supervisors meeting.
“The efforts of the sheriff’s department represented here today are critical to our collaborative effort to let these illegal growers know they are not welcome in the Antelope Valley and Los Angeles County,” he read. “This is part of our larger plan to combat this problem. We will continue to work together to protect our local communities and provide the safe and supportive neighborhoods that our residents and families deserve.”