FRESNO, Calif. – Nearly 100 people have been arrested in an ongoing sweep of marijuana-growing operations that has netted more than $1.7 billion worth of pot in California's Sierra Nevada range, federal and state agents said Thursday.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said several Mexican drug cartels were involved in the grow operations and that most of the 97 people arrested are Mexican nationals. Agents were combing tracts of public land in the remote stretches of Fresno, Madera and Tulare counties.
"Tremendous devastation has been done and continues to be done by these industrial-sized grows," said Gil Kerlikowske, who directs the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy and was in Fresno on Thursday to support the raid. "I think when people see what these marijuana grows do to their land, it makes a huge difference."
About 450 agents have destroyed more than 432,000 marijuana plants during the three-week sweep, which ends Friday, Kerlikowske said. Still, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics, that accounts for a small percentage of the pot typically seized in California each year.
Eastern District of California U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said federal prosecutors were taking a more aggressive enforcement tack this year and charging those arrested in the bust with everything from criminal immigration offenses to conspiracy to distribute marijuana to depredation to public lands.
Officials would not clarify which Mexican cartels were involved but said more arrests were pending.