Agents with the Alameda County Narcotics Task Force and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office conduct a raid on an indoor marijuana cultivation operation in Oakland, Calif., on June 8, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner, Bay Area News Group)

Agents raid 10 Oakland marijuana grow houses linked to Mexican cartel

The task force commander said the cartel would also move Mexican nationals into the houses and pay them to grow and tend to the crops

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Alameda County Narcotics Task Force continued a second day of Oakland raids Wednesday on suspected illegal marijuana grow houses in East Oakland linked to a major Mexican drug cartel, authorities said.

Ten houses, including one across the street from an elementary school, were raided Tuesday and Wednesday.

At least 15 people were arrested, and authorities seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana with an estimated street value of nearly $4 million. They also confiscated growing equipment and materials, along with two assault rifles and a revolver.

Task force members used flash-bang grenades before gaining entry at some sites, but no injuries were reported.

Sheriff’s Lt. Derrick Hesselein, the task force commander, said the organized grow operation involves the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.

He said the cartel would move Mexican nationals into the houses and pay them a small amount of money to grow and tend the marijuana and protect the crops. Some of the operations “were sophisticated, some were not,” he said.

He said plants in various stages of growth were recovered as well as packaged product in different rooms at the houses. In one house, 55 gallon-size garbage bags full of 1-pound packages of finished product ready for sale were seized. The exact value of the marijuana seized has not been determined yet.

Authorities have not said how the marijuana was distributed.

Hesselein said the equipment used in the growing operations was powered by “thousands of dollars worth” of pirated electricity.

Agents raid 10 Oakland marijuana grow houses linked to Mexican cartel
Alameda County Sheriff’s Office sergeant Bret Scheuller looks at some of the marijuana plants that were confiscated during a raid on an indoor marijuana cultivation operation in Oakland, Calif., on June 8, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner, Bay Area News Group)

All of those arrested were adults, but some children were also living at some houses, and they were released to Alameda County Child Protective Services, he said.

Houses raided Wednesday were on 84th Avenue, D Street, Tevis Street and a home on Rudsdale Avenue across the street from Acorn Woodland Elementary School.

Hesselein said the investigation began a month ago based on tips and community involvement.

Based on what the investigation has found so far, Hesselein said it shows that “marijuana is not a victimless crime. It brings a lot of problems to our cities.”

The task force, a multiagency law enforcement team headed by the sheriff’s office, was helped in the raids by Hayward and Oakland Housing Authority Police, the sheriff’s office Special Duty Unit and Transit Crimes Unit, and the county Office of Emergency Services.

Hesselein said a key part of the raids was the use of a sheriff’s department drone, which provided “instant on-site surveillance and intelligence and also was able to follow suspects trying to flee.”

He said the investigation is continuing.

This story was first published on East Bay Times