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Published:July 26th, 2007 06:04 EST
Nature Preserve Eradicated, Over 38,000 Marijuana Plants Removed

Nature Preserve Eradicated, Over 38,000 Marijuana Plants Removed

By SOP newswire


(Chicago) Gary G. Olenkiewicz, Special Agent in Charge of DEA`s Chicago Field Division along with Richard Waszak, Chief of the Cook County Forest Preserve Police, announced today the removal of over 38,000 marijuana plants from 14 cultivated fields located inside the Crabtree Nature Preserve in Barrington, Illinois. Two individuals have been charged with cultivating marijuana and criminal damage to land.

The investigation began on June 10, 2007 when an intern with McGraw Wildlife Research, conducting a study in partnership with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, went to retrieve a camera from the woods and encountered three Hispanic men utilizing a sump pump, generator and water hose to pump water from a pond near the Crabtree Nature Preserve. The intern questioned the men who initially claimed to be employed with the Village of Barrington, but later fled. The intern then contacted the Cook County Forest Preserve Police (CCFP) who later followed the hose back to a cultivated marijuana field. The CCFP notified DEA, and aerial surveillance revealed areas of natural foliage to the nature preserve that had been damaged and stripped away to make room for the fields of marijuana.

In addition to the marijuana fields, investigators located more than one encampment with tents, cots and supplies, including food, a cooking area, shower area, and fertilizer bags. Also found near one of the encampments, was a reinforced underground bunker, lined with four-inch logs and covered with dirt. During an inspection of one of the cultivated fields, investigators found two men wearing camouflage clothing and sleeping in a tent located in a heavily brush covered area in the center of yet another cultivated field of marijuana. The two men, identified as Jose Verra and Bernardo Rangel, were taken into custody and have been charged with three counts each by the Cook County State Attorney`s Office. The charges included two class two felonies (cultivating marijuana over 50 plants and criminal damage to land) and one misdemeanor (criminal trespass to land).

For the Chicago area, this is the fourth marijuana eradication in the Cook County Forest Preserves to take place during 2007. The total marijuana plants eradicated and destroyed in this year`s previous operations totaled approximately 17,000 plants and, at over 38,000 plants, today`s operation clearly surpassed that number. "This particular marijuana operation shows the sophistication of some traffickers," stated Mr. Olenkiewicz. "Instead of smuggling marijuana across the border, this drug organization set up shop in the United States on public property, in the forest preserves, where it was being cultivated for harvest and illegal distribution. They did a lot of work to set up this grow. Through the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program, we will continue to work with the Cook County Forest Preserve Police and other state, local, and federal agencies to make sure our natural resources aren`t damaged and contaminated by drug traffickers trespassing on public property."

Chief Waszak praised the working relationship between the CCFP Police and the DEA, stating, "Our solid, productive partnership with DEA continues to yield positive results and we will continue to fight those who would seek to profit through illegal activity on our land."

The DEA`s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) is a nationwide law enforcement program that exclusively targets marijuana. The DCE/SP began funding programs in Hawaii and California in 1979. Since that time, the program has expanded to all 50 states, and provides support and resources to 111 state and local law enforcement agencies that participate in the program.

The agencies participating in the eradication at the Crabtree Nature Preserve today were the DEA, Cook County Forest Preserve Police, Barrington Police Dept, Barrington Fire Dept, Elk Grove Police Dept, Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group, Elgin Police Dept, Illinois State Police, Naperville Police Dept, Batavia Police Dept and the Illinois Army National Guard Reserve. The case is being prosecuted by the Cook County State Attorney`s Office.