The Mexican drug cartel is present in Ohio. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office says the group was growing thousands of marijuana plants in both Muskingum and Logan counties before federal, state, and local authorities busted these operations this week. It brings the number of marijuana plants seized in Ohio this year to 60,000.
"We don’t get too many moments like this in law enforcement. It’s rare for investigators to make arrests in these kinds of marijuana growing operations, and to have 11 arrested individuals surprised even the most seasoned of our investigators, " says Ohio Attorney General, Richard Cordray.
It all started four months ago in Logan County. Sheriff Andrew Smith says his office received a tip from some hunters of suspicious activity on private property near Zanesfield. Detectives went out and surveyed the area, only to find a campsite that Smith says appeared to be for the cultivation and protection of marijuana plants. A second site was discovered in Muskingum County last month, near Adams Mills, which authorities believed was the work of the same group.
"They’ve been on terrain that is very hard to get to by vehicle. It’s usually by foot is the easiest way to go in and out," says Muskingum County Sheriff, Matt Lutz.
Authorities were ready to descend on the operation in Adams Mills Monday.
"One of the things our guys talked about going into the field when we were trying to arrest them was there were 10 guys in there processing this field, and they couldn’t believe how quiet they were, " says Sheriff Lutz.
Lutz says these operations are very difficult to detect, but aviation resources help out a great deal.
The Logan County bust did follow up Tuesday.
Authorities say they don’t know exactly where the marijuana was intended to go.
"The people who do this, they’re looking for money. This is the way they’re approaching it. I feel strongly that if all these individuals would simply start legal small businesses in Ohio, that would put a nice dent in our economy," says Cordray.
He has a message for anyone else involved in similar activities.
"We know what you are doing. We know how you are doing it, and we know a whole lot about where you are, " says Cordray.
The current legal status of the 10 men arrested in Adams Mills Monday is not known at this time. The 11th man, who was also taken into custody Monday at a residence in Columbus, is Hugo Ayala. Authorities are calling him the "ring leader" of the operation. They say he is considered to be a legal resident but will need to undergo a further background check.
All 11 men will be charged with cultivating marijuana. If convicted, they could face up to 40 years in prison. Additional charges may be pending. A preliminary hearing has been set for this Thursday in front of a US Master Judge.
Authorities say they will also examine if this group is connected to other marijuana busts throughout the state.