Madera Co. agents seize pot garden

MADERA — Harvesters ready to reap an estimated $5million marijuana bonanza from a garden near Coarsegold had a little Friday-the-13th bad luck.

A tip led Madera County narcotics agents shortly after dawn to the garden. Officers believe they surprised at least eight harvesters, who fled as the raiders hiked into the garden. There were no arrests.

"You're talking huge buds," Madera County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Erica Smith said about the illegal garden. "These [plants] were ripe and ready."

Agents called it a sophisticated plot with an extensive irrigation system. Three dome tents, sleeping bags, fertilizer, food, shotgun shells and deer meat hanging by a rope were also found in the camp.

"As near as they can tell, there had to be at least eight people camping out at that location, tending to those gardens," Smith said. "This particular garden was within spitting distance of homes. It's so brazen."

Based on unspecified evidence seized at the scene, agents said they believe the garden was directly linked to a Mexican drug cartel, Smith said.

"They lost their fortune — one they had been nurturing carefully for months," Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said. "This isn't the first time we have received tips. It clearly shows that our citizens are as fed up as we are with the drug underworld and its wanton disregard for wildlife and our community."

Friday's raid was the fifth this year for the Madera Narcotic Enforcement Team. So far, the multiagency team has ripped out an estimated $53million of the illegal crop before harvesters could cash in.