Lincoln police bust huge pot operation

2010-03-09T23:44:00Z Lincoln police bust huge pot operationBy CORY MATTESON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
March 09, 2010 11:44 pm  • 

One home is valued at about $170,000, and nestled on a cul-de-sac where young children play outside. Another, valued at $224,000, is in a quiet neighborhood just off the interstate. The third is in north central Lincoln and valued at $67,000.

During searches of each on Friday and Saturday, the Lincoln/Lancaster County Narcotics Task Force discovered hundreds of marijuana plants cultivated in what police described as perhaps the biggest growing operation uncovered in the city's history.

On Friday, police arrested two men on suspicion of manufacturing marijuana with the intent to deliver it in connection with the growing operations. On Saturday, they arrested three more.

In all, task force Capt. Brian Jackson said, about 1,300 plants were seized from the houses at 5210 N. 11th St., 3260 Dudley St. and 2620 Norman Circle.

"We come across grow operations from time to time, none that compare in size to these," Jackson said.

"Any of these three would be the largest in my experience," Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said.

On Tuesday, Jackson said more grow operations and suspects could be uncovered.

Those arrested were:

  •  Aaron W. Polk, 31, 3217 Fletcher, Apartment 350
  •  Kevin Belton, 31, 5210 N. 11th St.
  •  Chien H. Nguyen, 31, 3720 S. 48th St.
  •  Cuong P. Ngo, 51, Ontario, Canada
  •  Bans T. Truong, 53, Ontario, Canada

All five had bonded out of jail by Tuesday afternoon.

Video: Lincoln police discuss pot bust

Jackson said the investigation began last year and centered on the North 11th Street address.

He said the task force was aware of activity at the house for about 10 months, including eight months of active marijuana growth.

"And that could be longer," he said.

A tip from a neighbor directed police attention to the house, Jackson said.

"The vigilance of the community is what basically broke this case," he said.

Unlike many houses where drug dealing is suspected, the grow houses weren't frequented by visitors at all hours of the day and night.

"These are largely unoccupied," Jackson said. "These are homes in your neighborhoods that may have weekly visitors."

That doesn't mean they're entirely "normal" looking.

"You're looking at windows that are blacked out, generally unoccupied, activity at strange hours, strange odors," Jackson said. "There's any number of indicators that could come."

According to a probable cause affidavit, police searched 5210 N. 11th St. at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Polk and Belton were inside, as were 685 marijuana plants and "numerous items of drug paraphernalia," according to the affidavit.

The owner of the house lives in Oakland, Calif., according to the Lancaster County Assessor's Web site.

Information obtained during the search of the 11th Street home led the task force to search the other two Saturday, Jackson said.

"(The cases) just build on each other," he said.

A confidential tip tied Nguyen by name to the operation, according to the affidavit, as well as two older men. Police pulled over Nguyen, Ngo and Truong in a van on Saturday prior to the search of the Norman Circle home and say they found about $2,500 cash and several "marijuana grow materials" in the van, according to police records.

The Saturday night search of 2620 Norman Circle uncovered 202 marijuana plants and 429 seedlings, according to police records.

The owner of the house lives in Pleasant Dale, according to the assessor's Web site.

At the Dudley Street house, 412 plants and 347 seedlings were seized Saturday night, according to a police incident report.

The assessor's Web site lists a Lincoln post office box as the address for the owner of the Dudley house.

Jackson said the methods used in the grow operations at each of the three houses, and the methods used to attempt to conceal the operations were similar and sophisticated, tying the three together.

He said electricity at each of the houses was diverted to bypass the meter, concealing the significant amount of power required for heat lamps and other instruments needed to replicate the swamplike conditions conducive to pot growth. The act of cheating the utility company is a crime all its own, Casady said.

Jackson said the operations left the three houses with tens of thousands of dollars in damages. For instance, although most of the rows and rows of plants at the Norman Circle address were in the basement, Jackson said holes were punched throughout the home in an effort to ventilate the place. Carpets were ruined by the heat and humidity. Mold caked the walls.

"The owners that were unaware of the grows have been very cooperative and very shocked at what they've discovered at their properties," Jackson said.

None of the five men are listed as owners of the homes.

Jackson said the investigation thus far indicates drugs were likely distributed in the city and regionally, but not cross-country.

Given a year to grow, Jackson said, a plant would produce about a pound of pot, which, he said, could sell for $1,200 to $2,000, depending on quality.

Jackson said no weapons were found during any of the searches.

Neighbors who lived near the grow houses said Tuesday they hadn't noticed any suspicious traffic recently.

"I'm surprised, that's all," said Bob Reeves, who lives on the same block as the Dudley Street house.

He said he didn't know who was living at the house, one of several rentals on the block.

Neighbors near the other homes expressed the same sentiment.

Reach Cory Matteson at 473-7438 or cmatteson@journalstar.com.

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