In the latest in a series of raids, detectives have arrested four men and seized 132 pounds of marijuana worth $540,000 from two houses in Town 'N Country and Lutz.
The afternoon and evening of Nov. 25, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office searched 9019 Tree Valley Circle in the Town 'N Country neighborhood of Pinehurst.
"It was all very unexpected," said Alonso High School senior Loraine Garcia, 17, who lives two doors away.
Neighbors knew the man who rented the house as someone who would say hello as he passed by and sometimes watered a pair of lush philodendrons hanging in pots on the front porch. Generally, they said, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
"The only thing was, I hadn't seen many cars there, which was kind of weird," said licensed practical nurse Dulce Arcila, 37, who lives across the street.
There was a reason for that, officials say.
Inside the home, investigators found 152 marijuana plants, lights with 1,000-watt bulbs, electrical equipment, a water filtration system and reflective material on the walls. Authorities said the house was being used solely to grow marijuana.
The same night, they searched another grow house at 833 Lutz-Lake Fern Road. That's a pink ranch house on a large lot just north of the Lutz Nature Park and Oscar Cooler Youth Sports Complex.
There investigators found 36 more plants and more indoor growing equipment.
• Jesus Fonseca Sanchez, 55, of 9019 Tree Valley Circle.
• Lazaro Avila Perez, 43, of 8608 Leeward Drive.
• Jasan Arguelles, 27, of 833 Lutz-Lake Fern Road W.
• Frank Cedeno, 35, of 833 Lutz-Lake Fern Road W.
In arrest reports, detectives don't say how they developed the men as suspects, but do say that the morning of the raids Sanchez picked up Perez and went to the house in Lutz. They spent three hours there before surveillance investigators watched them leave.
Shortly after, investigators approached the two at Waters Avenue and Henderson Road and got Sanchez's permission to search the Town 'N Country house. After his arrest, Sanchez told authorities he also was establishing the grow house in Lutz, according to an arrest report.
Each man was charged with the manufacture and possession of marijuana, theft of electricity and possession of drug paraphernalia. Sanchez and Perez also were charged with trafficking in marijuana.
All four men were booked into the Hillsborough County Jail. Sanchez and Arguelles were released after posting bail. Neither could be reached for comment.
In late summer, the Sheriff's Office announced it had raided more than 60 grow houses throughout suburban Hillsborough County, seizing 1.5 tons of marijuana and arresting 70 people.
Many of the searches followed tips from neighbors who grew suspicious of homes where the windows were covered, where no one seemed to live or where there were odd comings and goings.
In many cases, including the latest two, growers were charged with tapping directly into power lines, bypassing the electric meter, to steal the electricity they needed for their high-wattage growing lights.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5311.