Federal, state and local authorities arrested 11 people Wednesday in a large marijuana growing operation in Piercy that had reportedly been going on for 20 years, seizing almost 300 plants and more than 800 pounds of drying and packaged marijuana, along with guns and cash.
“They had two medical recommendations, but they did admit to selling,” said Richard Russell, special agent supervisor with the state Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. “They had grown complacent.”
Four of the people who were arrested lived at the property, and the remaining seven were allegedly trimmers, many from out of the area and overseas, according to Russell.
Agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, state DOJ, Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force and County of Mendocino Marijuana Eradication Team (COMMET) arrived via helicopter at the 320-acre property because the terrain was rugged and the property remote, Russell said.
The 290 plants growing on the land had been trimmed, Russell said, but still had bud growing on them.
“They cut buds off of the plants and left the plants growing, and they would just go out and clip more when they needed it,” Russell said.
Landing around 10:30 a.m., authorities seized the plants and 631 one-pound bags of marijuana, 183 pounds of drying marijuana that was hanging in four houses and outbuildings at the site, nine guns and more than $71,000 in cash.
“There was marijuana in every building,” Russell said.
The cashwas in mason jars in one house and easily accessible in two others, he said, in addition to $4,990 found along with marijuana hidden in pickle barrels in the woods, which Russell said hadn’t been buried, likely because there wasn’t time to do so before authorities arrived.
Kevin Charles Muller, 47, Gayle Dennison Muller, 44, and Stephen Jeff Muller, 46, inherited the land from their Norwegian father, according to Russell, and their citizenship is uncertain, but isn’t under investigation.
“It’s neither here nor there for us,” Russell said.
All three were arrested on suspicion of cultivating and possessing marijuana for sale. Stephen Muller’s bail was set at $25,000. Kevin and Gayle Muller were also arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm in the commission of a felony and booked at the county jail under $50,000 bail.
Edward Grove Reich, 39, also lived at the grow site, according to Russell, and was arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana. He was booked under $20,000 bail.
The alleged trimmers arrested on suspicion of cultivating and possessing marijuana for sale include Lorin Marie Hill, 49, of Springfield, Ore.; Alejandra Martinez Portero, 29, of Piercy; Samuel Ortega-Aguilera, 30, of Piercy; Martin Moreno-Perez, 31, of Malaga, Spain; Sergio Garcia-Moreno, 30, of Malaga, Spain; and Alberto Molina Megias, 33, of Malaga, Spain. All six were booked under $25,000 bail each.
Eric Matthew Burgess, 26, of Windsor, also an alleged trimmer, was arrested on suspicion of cultivating marijuana and booked at the county jail under $10,000 bail.
Ten of the defendants were released after posting bail and are due in court later this month and in early December. Megias remained in custody Friday.
Russell called the alleged trimmers in this case “typical,” saying of the trimmers he usually sees arrested, “They’re from all over the world … They look on the Internet to find out who needs work and where. They’re usually young people traveling the world. They have no real career path, and they’re living off the marijuana trade.”
He said there are still “thousands” of marijuana plants authorities are working to eradicate in the area from Willits north to Piercy.