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Tens of thousands of pot plants seized in raids in NorCal's rural Lake County

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The marijuana growing business in Northern California's rural and remote Lake County is taking a big hit after a series of raids by a narcotics task force.

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A spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force says as part of a campaign targeting marijuana growing operations, task force agents have found and destroyed tens of thousands of marijuana plants, made several arrests and seized thousands of dollars of what’s believed to be drug money during the past month.

Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Brooks announced late Friday that in the largest and apparently most successful of several raids conducted in June by the task force, narcotics agents earlier in the week found and eradicated more than 35,000 marijuana plants growing in two large cornfields outside the community of Lower Lake, a tiny hamlet about 120 miles north of San Francisco.

Also during the week, the task force located and destroyed about 4,000 marijuana plants growing in separate locations spread out across the area.

The pot gardens were spotted from by air patrols searching for illegal marijuana grows.

“The majority of the grow sites were identified during prior overflight missions,” Brooks said in a statement. “The purpose of the overflights is to seek out probable illicit marijuana growing operations.”

The raids during the week came less than two weeks after members of the task force found and eradicated another massive marijuana garden where nearly 13,000 marijuana plants were found growing in a cornfield -- an apparent attempt to conceal the plants from air patrols -- in Middletown, another one of the many tiny communities spread across the sparsely populated county.

When members of the task force searched that property on June 13, Brooks says they found another 3,700 marijuana plants inside a building on the property.

Detectives also found two loaded guns, and a complex irrigation system to water the plants, but no suspects were at the site.

Just three days before that raid -- on June 10 -- detectives serving a warrant at a home in Lakeport found 85 marijuana plants growing in greenhouses and in planters on the grounds of the property, as well as about 26 pounds of processed and unprocessed marijuana.

Two men were arrested in that raid, with detectives saying they found evidence that the marijuana being grown by the men was being processed and mailed to East Coast locations.

Also, earlier this month, on June 6 the sheriff’s task force found 650 marijuana plants in a home in Kelseyville. That raid led them to three other homes where detectives found another 630 marijuana plants, about 75 pounds of processed marijuana and nearly $51,000 in cash.

And on June 1, members of the task force and Bureau of Land Management agents hiked into a remote area near Lower Lake and seized nearly 6,000 marijuana plants.

In that case, officials believe the marijuana was being grown by a drug trafficking ring.

“The sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force will continue its efforts to eradicate narcotics from the communities of Lake County and seize the suspected profits of drug trafficking for the asset forfeiture whenever possible,” Brooks said.

Lake County -- with a population of about 64,000 people spread across nearly 1,300 square miles of scenic and rural countryside -- is one of California’s least populated, and though incomes vary widely among the county’s residents -- also one of the poorest counties in state.

While people retiring or moving away from the urban life of the San Francisco Bay area are helping to boost property values and the county’s per capita income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 24 percent of Lake County’s population is considered to be living below the poverty level.

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