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16 people arrested in dual marijuana busts in Pueblo County

May 9, 2017 Updated: May 9, 2017 at 4:28 pm
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Authorities found 57 plants and 250 pounds of dried marijuana at a home in the 1800 block of North Bear Gulch Lane in Pueblo West Monday. Fourteen people were arrested on suspicion of illegal cultivation and possession with intent to distribute. (Photo courtesy of Pueblo County Sheriff's Office)

Sixteen people and about $500,000 worth of marijuana are off the streets after dual busts in Pueblo County on Monday, officials said.

Authorities confiscated 128 plants and 250 pounds of dried marijuana across the unrelated grows, the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday.

Law enforcement has been complaining for at least two years that Colorado marijuana laws let criminals hide illegal operations in plain sight, often posing as medical grows, and ship the yields out of state.

At the first grow in the 1800 block of North Bear Gulch Lane, for example, Ely Smith, 33, told authorities he and his wife were growing medical marijuana, but they didn't have paperwork to back it up. Thirteen people later were found in the couple's basement, using commercial-grade bud-trimming equipment to harvest 57 plants. Authorities said they also found 250 pounds of dried product.

Smith said all of the individuals were family and friends who moved to the state from Florida. All were of Cuban, Argentine or Dominican Republic descent, the Sheriff's Office said.

Arrested on suspicion of illegal cultivation and possession with intent to distribute were Smith; Varano Lazaro, 47; Keita Ayala, 32; Shirley Marjanovic, 39; Vladimir Montano, 50; Roberto Banos-Hinojosa, 43; Noivel Cruz-Perea, 32; Teodoro Nunez, 36; Jose Rodriguez, 51; Javier Pardo, 43; Yareza Lopez, 39; Yuliet Alvarez, 40; Yanitza Pardo, 20; and Daniel Rodriguez, 44.

"I think we've made a dent in the number of illegal grows in this county, but I don't think they're going away," Sheriff Kirk Taylor said.

He looks to House Bill 17-1220 to "give law enforcement additional tools to help in the eradication of the 'black market' in this county and across the state." The bill would largely cap the number of plants a person can have or grow on a residential property at 16 and increase criminal penalties for offenders, It is waiting to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

On the other side of the county, authorities found 70 plants growing in a four-car garage in the 49000 block of U.S. 50 East in Avondale. The grow had no paperwork, and the electricity had to be shut off due to unsafe wiring.

Accused of illegal cultivationwere Diosniel Hernandez, 32, and Suyapa Isabel Castillo-Meraz, 48.

More arrests are possible in both operations, which were reported by residents, authorities said.

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Contact Kaitlin Durbin: 636-0362

Twitter: @njKaitlinDurbin

Facebook: Kaitlin Durbin

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