A special anti-gang police team uncovered four sophisticated marijuana grow operations worth millions that included a vast underground greenhouse hidden by a paddock and a high-end doghouse in the Hatzic Valley area east of Mission.
On Friday, officers with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (CFSEU-BC) executed search warrants, confiscating up 10,000 marijuana plants and expensive equipment from four rural and remote properties.
The sites are in the 10000 block and 14000-block Sylvester Road, 12000-block Dewdney Trunk Road, and 13000-block De Graff Road.
Police seized live plants ranging from seedlings to mature plants several feet tall and in bud, plus 200 pounds of dried marijuana, estimated to worth between $5 million and $10 million.
Another $1 million worth of equipment and $20,000 cash were also seized.
"We received a tip several months ago, and we believe that's how long (the grow-ops) have been in place, since about the beginning of the year," said Sgt. Lindsey Houghton, CFSEU-BC's spokesperson.
"Experienced officers describe it as one of the most sophisticated grow-ops they have ever seen."
Police believe the grow-ops are linked to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang. The operators installed the latest technology and "extremely high levels of security" to conceal them from police as well as rivals who may want to steal the goods, said Houghton.
The De Graff Road grow-op is an underground bunker that officers first thought was a horse stable and paddock but was "in effect, just a movie set," he said. The hatch was hidden under straw bales in the barn.
"A fake dog house made out of beautiful wood" and a fire pit camouflaged the venting for the underground operation.
Each site was operated by a natural gas generator worth an estimated $100,000 each and "capable of providing power to a small town." These were removed by a large crane.
Officers are still counting and cataloging items this week, said Houghton.
Even after investigators hauled away what they could on "flatbeds, vans, whatever we could find," some equipment was left on site and destroyed there so the items were no longer serviceable, he added.
In total, five men were arrested. Two men, ages 33 and 32, as they tried to flee the De Graff Road bunker on foot, a Burnaby man, 33, found inside the 14000-block Sylvester Road grow-op, and 34-year old man of no fixed address who tried to run from the 10000-block Sylvester Road. A Langley man, 34, believed to be the caretaker of the grow-ops, was arrested at a fifth site in the 4500block 206th Avenue in Langley. All were released from custody and may face drug-related charges.
The RCMP Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team, K-9 teams and the pot-seeking Surrey Green team assisted.
The CFSEU-BC is the province's largest integrated police force, drawing members from the RCMP and 14 law agencies to focus specifically on anti-gang activities. - Christina Toth is a reporter with the Abbotsford Times.
@ Copyright 2013