Six people arrested in sweep of grow houses

WEBSTER — Hernando County narcotics detectives have arrested six people, four of them from the Miami area, suspected of running marijuana-growing operations from three homes in Webster.

Investigators acting on search warrants Friday morning discovered the operations at 35026 Soap Stone Drive; 8203 Chimney Rock Drive; and 9057 Realstone Drive, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Authorities found 221 marijuana plants and 19 cloned plants inside the three homes. They also discovered at least two air-conditioning units at each residence, grow lights, fans, devices used to divert electricity and other equipment used to grow marijuana.

Yamilet Fleites, 23, of Tampa; Rodolfo Santander Gonzalez, 35, of St. Petersburg; Jose Mora-Garcia, 31, of Miami; and Ricardo Veliz, 32, Katea Santos, 29, and Hanoy Martinez, 35, all of Hialeah, each face charges of cultivation of marijuana, grand theft and meter tampering. They were all booked into the Hernando County Jail on Friday in lieu of $10,500 bail.

As of Monday afternoon, only Fleites had posted bail; the others remained in custody.

Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman with the Sheriff's Office, said investigators believed the grow houses were all linked to South Florida but would not go into detail about how the operation was uncovered.

The suspects will not face charges under the new Florida law, starting today, that would officially lower the classifying threshold of a building as a grow house from 300 plants to 25 plants. Those accused of breaking the law could be charged with a second-degree felony and face up to 15 years in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee in Brooksville said he looked forward to using the new law as a means to crack down on marijuana growers.

"Before, sometimes criminals would know the grow house threshold and we'd find something like 298 plants," Barbee said. "It was a good break for the bad guys (on Friday)."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.

Six people arrested in sweep of grow houses 06/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 6:35pm]

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