Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco County deputies raid four grow houses in gated communities

Among four properties the Pasco Sheriff’s Office raided is this house at 3612 Morgans Bluff Court in Plantation Palms.

Bay News 9

Among four properties the Pasco Sheriff’s Office raided is this house at 3612 Morgans Bluff Court in Plantation Palms.

LAND O'LAKES — The neighbors didn't know Mr. and Mrs. Yates, the young couple renting a home on Morgans Bluff Court in Plantation Palms for the past year.

They saw Robert Yates, 33, outside from time to time, washing the car belonging to his 24-year-old wife, Katie. The couple's yard was lushly landscaped, thick green grass, petite shrubs, mulch in place, just like all the homes facing the seventh hole of the community's golf course. And like the other homes on this kid-friendly street, it was decorated for fall: two small smiling scarecrows in the yard, another hugging a pumpkin in a "welcome" sign on the door, which was burgundy and framed by floral stained glass. The lights and television went on at night.

The neighbors had no idea what was really going on.

The Yateses didn't live there at all.

According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the couple used this lavish 2,347-square-foot home as a marijuana grow house. The house was one of four raided Tuesday morning, including another home in Ballantrae Village where the Yateses actually lived. Authorities say the couple rented that home at 3115 Downan Point Drive, a two-story, 1,520-square-foot gray stucco in another upscale neighborhood.

"I'm shocked," said Mike Milkovitz, 35, a neighbor in Plantation Palms who woke up Tuesday to find the street jammed with police cars. "You don't expect something like that to happen," he said.

Deputies seized 20 plants, 6 pounds of processed marijuana and nearly $5,000 in cash at the Ballantrae house. Another 70 plants and 6 pounds of packaged marijuana were taken from the Plantation Palms home.

"They had a very elaborate system," said Col. Al Nienhuis of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which did the investigation with the Pinellas County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force. "They were very technologically savvy."

Nienhuis said lights hung from thin metal cables above the plants, rotating overhead to simulate the rising and setting of the sun. There were big air filtration systems and a couple of desks, but that was it. No food in the cupboards. The lights and TV were timed to switch on at night.

"It was strictly used as an office and as a place to cultivate marijuana," Nienhuis said.

Marijuana grow houses have been in suburban, residential areas in Pasco for a long time. But Nienhuis was surprised at how nice these homes were.

"Anybody would be thrilled to death to live in that neighborhood," he said of the Plantation Palms home. "The bathroom was as big as a lot of people's bedrooms."

Altogether four homes were raided Tuesday morning. Nienhuis said the operations were all related, but declined to say what sparked the investigation.

At the home of Robert Yates' step-father, Reinaldo Ramirez, at 1845 Highland Oaks Blvd. in Lutz, authorities said they found 41 marijuana plants and 588 grams of dried marijuana. Like the home in Plantation Palms, this one is also in a gated community. The front entrance to the house has four two-story columns. Inside are four bedrooms, three baths and a three-car garage. It's listed for $350,000 with Signature Realty Associates.

The fourth house was at 3962 Lake Joyce Drive in Lake Padgett Estates in Land O'Lakes — a 2,138-square foot home right on a lake. Authorities there found 126 marijuana plants and are looking for a suspect named Kevin William Schmitt, 24.

"It's a growing problem," said Lt. Chuck Balderstone of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, of marijuana houses.

He said marijuana can sell for $4,000 to $6,000 a pound, so the lure is there for people to make money. He said people shouldn't be fooled into thinking it is a harmless business.

"With drugs comes money and greed and all the bad things associated with it," Balderstone said.

Nienhuis agreed.

"It always brings the propensity for violence," he said. "In that type of business, you have to be dealing with shady characters."

Mr. and Mrs. Yates and Ramirez, 58, were arrested. The Yateses both face the same charges: trafficking in marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. Bail was set at $50,150 for each of them.

Ramirez is charged with cultivation of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. His bail is $5,150. All three remained Tuesday evening at the Land O'Lakes jail.

Nienhuis said it appeared the Yateses believed in the power of positive thinking — the idea that if you focus on things you want, you will get them.

He said there were written messages on the bases of the marijuana plants, saying things like: "prosperity," "financial freedom" and "reaching our goals." He said there was a collage on a wall with Katie Yates' photo holding a big check for $100 million dollars and written on there was a prophecy that she would win the Powerball in December 2009.

There also was a sign, he said.

It read:

"We will not get caught."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at or (727) 869-6229.

Pasco County deputies raid four grow houses in gated communities 10/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 9:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Andy Serkis' directing debut 'Breathe' is not so inspiring


    After such a revolutionary acting career, Andy Serkis should be expected to make an equally inventive directing debut. Breathe is anything but that.

    Clare Foy and Andrew Garfield star in Breathe as Robin and Diana Cavendish, an English polio victim and his devoted wife, who pioneered disability rights and wheelchairs with ventilators. [Imaginarium]
  2. Federal judge blocks Trump's third travel ban

    A federal judge on Tuesday largely blocked the Trump administration from implementing the latest version of the president's controversial travel ban, setting up yet another legal showdown on the extent of the executive branch's powers when it comes to setting immigration policy.

    Protesters waved signs and chanted during a demonstration against President Donald Trump's revised travel ban outside a federal courthouse in Seattle in May. The third version of Trump's proposal was blocked by a federal judge Tuesday. [AP photo]
  3. The #BrooklynCow delighted Twitter for one glorious afternoon


    In the long tradition of social media delighting in news reports of a non-native animal running loose in an urban setting, Twitter, for a few blissful hours this afternoon, turned its collective …

    A bull was on the loose in Brooklyn for a little while on Tuesday afternoon.
  4. Pinellas, Hillsborough to join forces


    What is this, a crossover episode?

    Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins did make an appearance at the Pinellas County School Board workshop Tuesday in a first public move to establish an official partnerships between the two districts.

    Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins (center) and Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego discuss a new partnership between the two districts at a Pinellas County School Board workshop Tuesday in Largo.
  5. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]