Cops bust ‘elaborate’ pot operation
Editor’s note: The charges against all three occupants of the house, as detailed in this article, were subsquently dismissed.BASALT A Basalt house where three people were arrested Thursday for allegedly cultivating marijuana had two rooms rigged with “elaborate” growing systems, according to court documents.Each room contained “a hydroponic growing system, complete with multiple 1,000 watt lights, power ballasts, and exhaust fans,” an officer with the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team said in an arrest affidavit released Tuesday.An informant who alerted authorities about the operation claimed that a trapdoor in a cabinet provided access to one of the growing rooms, according to information in a search warrant. A false wall in the laundry room was allegedly used to hide other plants, the informant told police.The drug task force, known as TRIDENT, said it seized 27 pot plants in one room and 31 in the other. The 58 plants were in different stages of growth.”Through your affiant’s training and experience, this amount of marijuana plants is not consistent with personal use,” said the statement by the task force officer. The search of the house at 127 Ridge Road also yielded six Mason jars allegedly filled with freshly harvested pot.TRIDENT charged the three occupants of the house – Nicholas John Ferraro, Jacob Berstresser and Jasminka O. Baney, all 26 – with cultivation of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. The charges are felonies.Special SweeTarts discoveredThe three occupants are renting the house, so if they are convicted there is no chance of the property being seized as part of a drug operation, according to Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, chairman of TRIDENT’s board of directors.While searching Ferraro’s bedroom, officers allegedly found SweeTart candies with a liquid dropped in the middle, according to the arrest warrant. Ferraro allegedly told one of the TRIDENT officers, “I’m pretty sure they’re acid,” according to the arrest affidavit.TRIDENT officers also claimed a search of Ferraro’s bedroom produced fertilizer, order forms for a fertilizer brand called B.C. Grow, a scale and psilocybin mushrooms. A task force officer approached Ferraro in another room and asked what was in the bag. “Those are my ‘shrooms,” Ferraro allegedly replied, court documents said.Ferraro was charged with two counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, one charge each for LSD and mushrooms.Officers allegedly found Berstresser to be in possession of the SweeTarts laced with acid, according to court documents. He was charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance.The arrest warrant didn’t explain why Baney was arrested on the same charge.Roundabout tipThe tip about the alleged pot cultivation operation came to police after a strange series of events. On Jan. 29, a Glenwood Springs police officer was called to Valley View Hospital to talk to a man who claimed he had been poisoned at work, according to court documents.The man claimed that a co-worker had given him a piece of fudge. The man who supplied the treat told the man who ate the fudge that it had marijuana in it. The eater felt ill a half-hour later and eventually called 911, and an ambulance took him to the hospital. The officer asked him to take a urinalysis, which tested positive for THC, according to court documents.The man told the officer the name of the coworker who gave him the fudge. The officer contacted the man and he eventually told the Glenwood Springs police officer that his former boss “was having marijuana grown” at the house in Basalt, the search warrant affidavit said.Once he had an address, the officer obtained a warrant to check records for electrical use at the Basalt residence. The records showed power usage at 127 Ridge Road has steadily increased since August, according to the search warrant. Usage hit 3,354 kilowatts in January, nearly double the power usage of the house next door. “The average home utilizes between 700 and 1,200 KW per month,” the search warrant said.Eagle County Judge Katherine Sullivan signed a warrant for the search of the Basalt house on Feb. 22. TRIDENT officers conducted their search around 8 p.m.The three defendants were arrested and taken to Eagle County Jail. They posted bond for $15,000 each to get out of jail Friday.The Basalt case is the second recent arrest TRIDENT officers have made for alleged marijuana cultivation. In November they arrested a married couple and their daughter, along with another man, in a Westbank Road house near Glenwood Springs after their landlord allegedly discovered a growing room hidden by a false wall.While fewer than 100 pot plants were discovered, Vallario said the operation had the potential to support hundreds of plants.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.
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