Ten people, including mid- to high-level managers of a drug trafficking ring, were charged Wednesday in a case involving the seizure of more than 45,000 marijuana plants during raids on eight grow-farms on public land in San Diego and Riverside counties -- including near Temecula -- a federal official announced.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy told reporters in San Diego that "Operation Mountain High" was a two-year investigation that began after drug agents performing routine aerial surveillance spotted a remote marijuana farm in Julian in the summer of 2010.
On Tuesday, agents seized a dozen firearms and 300 pounds of processed marijuana with a street value of more than $300,000 during raids at farms in Julian, Valley Center, Pala, Palomar Mountain, the Cleveland National Forest and Riverside, she said.
Fourteen phone lines were tapped for nearly six months, producing hundreds of hours of intercepted conversations that were key to building the case, Duffy said.
"With these arrests and raids, we have eradicated a marijuana drug trafficking organization that had hijacked our forests and parks," she said. "We are not going to hand over our pristine public lands to gun-toting narco- farmers who destroy our landscape and harm the environment with pesticides so toxic that they are banned in the U.S."
Officials believe the drug traffickers are part of a much larger criminal operation based in Mexico.
Duffy said the organization used undocumented workers smuggled into the United States to tend to the marijuana crops.
The organization manufactured and distributed marijuana in locations throughout southern and central California, and had links to other cannabis grows in Northern California, Utah and Idaho, authorities said.
Members of the public who happen upon a marijuana-growing operation should not confront anyone and immediately call police, said William Sherman, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego.
"These are dangerous drug traffickers, is what they are," Sherman said.
Six of the 10 arrestees were taken into custody Tuesday. All of the defendants are charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.