Drug Trafficking in the Central Valley
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The truth about what's happening with some of the Central Valley's medical marijuana crops. The pot is legal to grow, but when it's taken across state lines, it becomes an illegal drug operation.
That's what Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies are trying to stop. Last Thursday, they embarked on an elaborate mission that began in Fresno.
Action News was there, at the end of the road in Texas when authorities arrested two women with a half million dollars worth of marijuana packed in suitcases and duffel bags.
Deputies had about a day's notice that this large shipment of high grade marijuana was leaving Fresno for the Lone Star State. They followed the trail that led them through several states.
The road trip ended in Texas with 150 pounds of pot and three people in custody.
A modest house in northwest Fresno is where Fresno County undercover detectives say two women loaded these bulky bags full of pot and began their 27 hour journey.
From sun up to sundown, through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas ... the women stopped only for gas and brief bathroom breaks. They had no idea eight armed sheriff's investigators trailed just a few car lengths behind them the entire 15 hundred mile trip.
Lt. Rick Ko said, "We watched this 4 runner travel through a number of states, from Fresno to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and those bags there contain illegal marijuana."
Just 24 hours earlier a tip from a confidential informant drew detectives together to figure out a surveillance plan. They also enlisted the help of the department of public safety in Texas. Once they found out a large quantity of drugs were involved, deputies were willing to go the distance to take down the operation.
"We follow up on those tips to the best of our abilities," said Lt. Rick Ko. "Sometimes it leads to an arrest in Fresno County and in this case it led to an arrest in, or several arrests, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area."
Investigators say based on what they recovered, the women were well prepared when they hit the road.
Lt. Rick Ko explained, "It's interesting that on one of the suspect's computers, in their bedroom, it had a Google search for marijuana and interdiction stops on I-40."
The women took the safest routes from Fresno to Fort Worth, avoiding many major cities.
They travelled south down Highway 99 into Kern County, then took the 58 East to Barstow. After a brief trek on Interstate 15, they spent a majority of drive time on Interstate 40 that took them right into the heart of Texas.
Deputies say although they found medical marijuana prescriptions tied to the organization that was only a ploy for what was a nationwide trafficking operation.
"A lot of this is conducted under the guise of medical marijuana and really a significant amount of it, is for profit," said Lt. Rick Ko.
Drug Trafficking in the Central Valley Part 2
An exclusive Action News investigation continues on drug trafficking in the Central Valley. The valley's legal pot crop appears to be contributing to the illegal drug trade in America.
Action News Reporter Sontaya Rose was in Dallas, Texas when a locally based drug operation was taken down. Investigators say the growers have medical marijuana cards, but are running a multimillion dollar drug business.
Last Thursday, Fresno County Sheriff's investigators packed their guns and hit the road. Their mission, to follow two women who they believed were carrying a car load of marijuana to the Lone Star State. Friday night, they pulled into a Texas neighborhood and with the help of Texas law enforcement found an SUV filled with a half million dollars in pot.
A road trip for Fresno County Sheriff's investigators ended 1500 miles away at a home in a suburb of Dallas.
Action News was there when Lorena Duane and Kay Viengkham were handcuffed and taken to a Texas jail.
"Hi there. My name's Sontaya Rose from ABC30, why were you transporting these drugs?"
The 53-year-old Vienghkham was the only passenger on the road trip. She acted as though she had no clue why she was being arrested.
Vienghkham: "Why they take me too?"
Sontaya: "For the transporting of the drugs."
Vienghkham: "What drugs?"
Investigators say there's no question both women drove this Toyota SUV filled with duffel bags. Inside the duffel bags were vacuum sealed bags of marijuana. They had traveled through four states before reaching Texas.
Lt. Rick Ko said, "I know they were in this vehicle and came from Fresno County."
Sheriff's investigators say the women were very methodical and they were also very careful because of what they were carrying. They never left the car unattended, even when they stopped to use the restroom - one of the women always stayed behind."
Texas authorities also arrested the man who Fresno County detectives believe was the mastermind, Timothy Duane. Action News has learned he's a former Madera County Probation Officer who recently lost his job. Madera County officials will not reveal the reason for the dismissal since it's a personnel issue.
Deputies tell us the woman who drove the SUV is Timothy Duane's wife, Lorena.
Late Friday night, the Texas Department of Public Safety served a warrant at this house in the town of Euless. It's the home the women drove directly to when they pulled into town. They found 150 pounds of top quality marijuana, $11,000 in cash and a Glock semi automatic pistol.
Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies say although the pot was grown legally in the central valley using medical marijuana prescriptions from doctors -- trafficking it is illegal. Investigators wanted to not only find out where the weed was growing, but also where it was ending up.
Lt. Rick Ko adds, "We don't just simply pull plants, but we conduct investigations to arrest the people that are responsible for these crimes, and to bring them to justice."
Drug Trafficking in the Central Valley Part 3
Our Action News crew traveled to Dallas, Texas -- where Fresno County Sheriff's Deputies took down a drug trafficking enterprise. And at the same time, we had another crew at a Fresno home where investigators dismantled a complex indoor growing operation.
This is a case of what appears to be a legitimate medical marijuana grow that was allegedly a front for selling pot out of state. What was recovered was valued at $165,000 in California but a half a million dollars in Texas.
As these heavy suitcases and duffel bags filled with marijuana were hauled out of a home just outside of Dallas, Texas -- a simultaneous bust was happening in Fresno.
At the exact same time Lorena Duane and Kay Viengham were led away in handcuffs, the northwest Fresno home the women left from was being picked apart by detectives in Fresno County.
Investigators say following the processed drugs to a destination, was only part of their bigger goal.
Lt. Rick Ko explained, "We're not just seizing marijuana but we are disrupting their production activities, their distribution and hopefully their finances and impacting their liberties through the court system."
Action News was there when undercover deputies found a sophisticated marijuana growing operation inside the two story northwest Fresno home. They discovered an elaborate lighting system to help the plants thrive and a high tech filtration system to completely mask the distinctive smell of marijuana. Quality fertilizer also ensured the plants would be given a good start.
Sheriff's investigators say the man who organized the drug dealing operation is Timothy Duane. He was arrested at the home the women drove to in Texas. Action News has learned Duane is a former Madera County Probation officer who was fired several months ago. Madera County officials will not reveal any details about his employment since it's a personnel issue.
A GPS used by the female suspects was also recovered during the Texas bust. It had been pre-programmed with the route the women took.
Investigators say the two women never stopped to sleep and drove straight through California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Undercover detectives say early on, it became clear the women were very cautious about stopping for bathroom breaks and fuel along their route.
"I mean, it was unusual how much care they took in their vehicle, from how often they gassed it up so that they didn't become disabled, and perhaps become known by law enforcement, they took a number of steps to prevent that," said Lt. Rick Ko.
The two day odyssey began last Thursday, the same day deputies were hard at work uprooting another alleged illegal grow in Fresno County. This one also grown under the guise of medical marijuana.
Pot farms aren't new, but this season, it's different.
"This is really kind of a phenomenon this year. Where traditionally our marijuana was grown in the mountains, and we've seen some on the valley floor, but it was usually interspersed with crops to conceal it," said Lt. Rick Ko. "This year, we've seen large swaths of land taken out of agricultural production and put specifically into marijuana production like you see here today."
To give you an idea of just how organized and high tech the grow operation was in northwest Fresno, investigators tell us the suspects tapped into a power source and had rigged so many lights and fans, that PG&E had to be called out to ensure it could be dismantled safely.NEWS BY LOCATION | ABC30 BLOGS | DISCUSSION FORUMS
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