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2 ACCUSED OF STEALING POWER TO GROW POT

The grow house skirted the meter, authorities say.

Deputies looking into an alleged theft of electrical power at a home on Monday found evidence of that crime - and a whole lot more.

According to an arrest affidavit, the members of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office's vice and narcotics unit discovered a small forest of marijuana plants growing in the home's garage.

The search of a house at 11850 Osprey Ave. turned up 53 mature marijuana plants between 18 and 24 inches tall, weighing a total of about 183 pounds, according to a report.

Authorities also found a power diversion system that allowed the user to draw electricity into the house before it could be registered at the meter.

Indoor growing operations, increasingly used to counteract raids of outdoor marijuana fields, consume large amounts of electricity. Growers use high-powered lights and elaborate watering systems, and they need large-volume air-conditioning units to cool the facilities.

In order to avoid detection by utility companies for using unusually high amounts of electricity, many growers devise ways to get power into the buildings by skirting the meters.

Besides being dangerous, stealing power in these ways costs utilities thousands of dollars and, in turn, boosts customers' rates, said David Lambert, a spokesman for the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, which supplied power to the Osprey Avenue home.

Leonardo Torres, 42, and Yurledis Alfonso, 24, each were arrested on charges of cultivation of marijuana and theft of services. Each was being held at the Hernando County jail.

Torres admitted to deputies that he was running the pot-growing operation, while Alfonso denied any knowledge of the activity, authorities said.

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