Deer hunters discover large marijuana-growing operation

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Hunters looking for deer in the mountains of central Utah found something much different and much more expensive: marijuana plants worth millions of dollars on the street.

So far, it's estimated deputies have pulled up about 7,000 marijuana plants, and they expect to pull just as many tomorrow. It's the latest marijuana grow of several discovered in remote areas of Utah in recent weeks.

Thousands of marijuana plants were growing in an area east of Ephraim in Sanpete County. Chopper Five was over the pot farm as deputies began the job of removing the plants.

Deer hunters stumbled onto the marijuana this weekend and alerted police.

"There are several different grow sites, and with the different grow sites, there are several thousand plants," said Sanpete County sheriff's Sgt. Greg Peterson.

This is how one hunter who saw the marijuana describes how the plants were being watered: "They had RainBirds. They had plastic pipe running everywhere that was pressurized. The water is coming from a spring up there. They would dig little holes around each plant to fill with water to water the root system. Quite an operation."

Deer hunters discover large marijuana-growing operation

The hunters encountered two men who police believe were actually living at the grow site watering the plants and guarding the grow operation. One of the suspects was armed with a handgun.

"Our deputy went up into there, and a couple of suspects started running. They grabbed what they could and took off running, and they ended up catching them and making the arrest," Peterson said.

Cesar Duran-Frias and Jose Rodriquez were taken into custody.

Photos from the site detail the size of the growing operation as well as the process the suspects were using to harvest the pot and begin to dry it out.

It's an operation the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office is glad to have shut down. "Especially as much as there is, it's really good to get it off of the mountain before it is harvested and before they start selling it and getting it on the street," Peterson said.

Authorities aren't talking tonight about who else may have been involved in this. Some deputies are keeping a watch on the site tonight, and many more officers will return tomorrow to start removing the thousands of plants.



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