January 11, 2020
ROWLAND HEIGHTS – The house with the red-tile roof and earth-toned exterior sits in the middle of a fairly ordinary San Gabriel Valley neighborhood. Parents rush to school with their children in the morning. The smell of barbecue permeates the air on any given evening. Traffic roars by on the 60 Freeway. On warm days, red tail hawks lazily float in the sky above. These are the routine, everyday occurrences that accompany life in the suburbs. What seemed to go unnoticed by residents in this quiet community in the middle of Rowland Heights was a multimillion-dollar marijuana farm that occupied an otherwise empty house in the 17800 block of Nearbank Drive. Unnoticed, that is, until sheriff’s narcotics detectives showed up Wednesday night with a search warrant and hauled away more than 1,500 high potency marijuana plants valued at more than $9.6 million. The home is not unlike several others nearby that have been raided by federal, state and local authorities in recent weeks. The raids bear an eerie likeness to several that have occurred over the past year in San Francisco, Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley, officials said. “This trend is a little too new to get a feel for the full scope of it,” said Sarah Pullen, a special agent with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. “What seems to be happening is that the \ want to be in an area that won’t draw attention.” Narcotics investigators claim the scale of the growing operations have exceeded the norm. Sgt. Mike Hannemann of the Sheriff’s narcotics bureau said that in the past, indoor pot farms have only taken up single rooms of homes, leaving space for people to live. In the most recent cases, he said, entire homes have been gutted and rendered uninhabitable, with every room converted to grow multitudes of marijuana plants. Rows and rows of tables full of foliage at different stages of growth filled make-shift tables and trays in almost every room of the Nearbank Drive home. Bundles of wires rigged to bypass Southern California Edison meters fed the large, high-powered lights, fans and other equipment necessary to grow pot plants indoors. Indoor farms raided last year in the Sacramento County city of Elk Grove displayed a similar ingenuity, said San Francisco police Inspector Jameson Pan. “It turns out they were all wired up by the same electrician,” he added. In the Nearbank Drive home, a white dry-erase board calendar bore what appeared to be initials and Chinese characters along the bottom. The suspicion among investigators is that elements of Asian organized crime are behind the farms. “It’s speculation at this point,” Hannemann said. But he added that the massive scale and cost of the operations makes organized crime networks likely. “It’s much bigger than the territorial gangs,” he said. Purchasing the homes and equipment to grow the plants costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. “It adds up quite fast. It’s a lot of money.” The recent spate of so-called grow-homes have been scattered across Rowland Heights, Diamond Bar and the neighboring communities of Chino Hills and Pomona. Homes in the Rowland Heights neighborhood surrounding Nearbank Drive list for between $775,000 and $900,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service, an Internet search engine used by Realtors to list homes for sale. A series of raids on seven such homes has taken place since the end of March. It’s no coincidence that these communities are at the heart of a demographic upheaval that has seen a huge influx of Asian immigrants over the past decade, some experts said. Neighborhoods like these offer an opportunity for Asian gang members to fly under the radar, said Pan, San Francisco’s expert on Asian organized crime. “Basically it’s an opportunity to make money, with less chance of being caught,” Pan said. In the 2000 Census, 46 percent of Rowland Heights’ 48,553 residents claimed Asian heritage. Most of those are of Chinese descent. Residential homes have been increasing their cache as pot farms in recent years because of the availability of “no money down” loans and low interest rates, Pan said. “There’s little overhead,” he added. “Next thing you know in six months you are making good money.” Areas with high concentrations of recent immigrants may also have attracted pot growers, because newer immigrants are sometimes less aware of “law enforcement practices and processes,” Hannemann said. The quiet, suburban nature of the neighborhoods may have led growers to believe there would be less attention by law enforcement authorities, Hannemann added. Neighbors said they noticed little activity at the home on Nearbank Drive, other than sporadic visits by people they did not recognize. Some said they saw the outside lights on late at night, but no sign that anyone lived inside. “I thought it was vacant,” said a male neighbor who declined to give his name for fear of reprisal. “I’ve never seen anything, to tell you the truth. It was quiet – almost to the point of being too quiet.” Another neighbor said she had seen a young Asian male going in and out once in a while, but otherwise took little notice of the house. Officials are unclear about the ultimate destination of the pot. [email protected] [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2717, 2393160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!