MARIJUANA BUST: Cartel’s Large Grow Operation

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Ringgold County is the latest rural Iowa community to fall victim to a large scale marijuana growing operation.

Just a few months ago an abandoned large scale marijuana operation was discovered in Ringgold County, which is about 100 miles from Des Moines.

Residents and local officials say they're shocked this could happen under their noses.

Just off an old dirt road in Ringgold County, hidden among the woods and cornfields an illegal cash crop has taken root.

“This is very serious, the people doing this spend a lot of time and money and energy trying to find locations in the middle of nowhere,” says Ringgold County Sheriff Mike Sobotka.

“Rather than having to bring marijuana across the Southwest border they`re bringing growers up here to the Midwest,” says Kevin Winker with the Division of Narcotics part of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

The land owner who didn’t want to be identified said he was shocked when he found out, “I felt stupid, how could this go on, on my own land and I don`t know what`s going on.”

The subtle signs started showing up last Spring, but the thought of a major marijuana grow operation never crossed the land owner`s mind.

“While hunting last year I noticed some water pipe laying on the ground and thought it seemed strange but just assumed it was from the past farmer watering his cattle or something like that,” says the land owner.

The land owner started putting the pieces together in August, but even when the Sheriff called he still didn`t think it was possible.

‘They wanted to have permission to go on my land and look for some things and I asked them what for and they and they thought maybe there was a drug plantation there.  I thought there was no way that`s on my land I know what`s going on,” says the land owner.

There was good reason he didn`t know what was going on.

“They`ll shave the trees up 15 to 20 feet to allow more light down to the plants but still keep the canopy above, so they`re coming in and destroying land and they`re doing it in such a way that it`s out of sight from the general public,” says Winker.

The land owner who used the land for hunting says he came close to running into the growers.

“I have deer stands not 50 yards away from it and the first plant probably wasn`t 25 yards off a main gravel road, and I had no clue.”

But it isn`t out of sight from the air.

When looking at a Google Earth image you can see lots of black dots which are hundreds of marijuana plants and a trail carved into the brush.  A previous photo aerial photo shows just a wooded area.

When the Ringgold County Sheriff`s Office moved in the site was already abandoned, but signs of the marijuana operation were everywhere.

For an estimated six months the growers lived out of a camouflaged tent and used a propane grill for cooking.

They were also equipped with fertilizer, tools, and kept extensive notes on the plants they grew.

“Someone went to a lot of work to hide it and to run it that far,” says the land owner.

The work that went into the operation was just as extensive.

On top of digging a hole for each of the more than 500 plants, the growers also dug several large pits and ran an irrigation line over a mile to a nearby pond.

The growers were also prepared to defend their crop.

“I would say it`s dangerous, they`ve got knives stuck in trees, they`ve got pick axes and they`re going to see you long before you see them,” says Sheriff Sobotka.

The land owner says he was close to where the growers had set up camp.

“It`s just a scary thought, thinking what if you happened upon this when they were there,” says the land owner.

The Sheriff says it`s a real possibility as marijuana growers increasingly take their chances on private land.

“If you see these water lines, if you see these pits, if you see abandoned campsites, you get out of there and call local law enforcement,” says Sheriff Sobotka.

The land owner says it’s changed how he views his land, “I think we`re more aware, if something doesn`t look right or feel right, we don`t go investigate it.”

The reality of the drug trade is setting in, in Ringgold County giving land owners a new danger to watch out for.

“The most thing you were ever worried about were trespassers or poachers,” says the land owner.

And costing them their sense of security.

“We trust people are going to do what they normally do and this kind of stuff doesn`t happen but it`s not that way anymore,” says the land owner.

Authorities say growers usually target isolated wooded areas on the outskirts of farm land or in covered hunting grounds.

The marijuana growing season in Iowa runs from late April through September.

Narcotics Agents says marijuana grown in Iowa is likely distributed throughout Iowa and across the Midwest.

Narcotics agents say it was a string of grows in Taylor, Worth and Decatur Counties that led them to the Ringgold operation.

The men responsible for those three grows have been arrested and are in prison.

The Division of Narcotics Enforcement has a toll free hotline for people to call if they suspect a marijuana grow in their area, 1 800 532 0052. You can remain anonymous.

Watch Part I here.


  • revraygreen (@revraygreen)

    So the actual grow in Ringold county was abandoned? but part of three other grows where they have un-named individuals in custody? These oinkers can’t even keep the mexican marijuana from Iowa (watched it via-live stream in the land of the free)

  • William Denison

    I tell people now if they are smart they will be talking to their brokers on how to invest in Cannabis. In just a few short years its going to be the new gold rush. Can’t wait:)

  • Leenus

    And here we have yet another reason to legalize marijuana. Instead of taxing and regulating the industry – the State of Iowa gets to spend endless time and money chasing the Mexican drug cartel around the vast woods of Southern Iowa. Isn’t going to be pretty if a group of deer hunters caring shotguns runs into these jokers….

  • Jim Smithers

    Didn’t see the plants . What i did see looked like ditch weed . Nothing compared to California or Oregon’s beautiful plants . 500 plants and it’s tassociated with he Mexican drug cartels . Ha. Probally some locals .

  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!

    only a matter of time before it’s legal in Iowa, 42 states have marijuana
    reform bills in the works.

    marijuana funded my college education and now im about to sit for the CPA exam…after i make marijuana free for all in this country


  • M. Yoder

    Does WHO have spell check, the first installment of this “story”, had the subtitle “they’re growing drugs in Iowa’s furtile soil…living right under our noses”


    I think the only fertile thing is the imaginations of our law enforcement. How does a reduced number 7700 plants in 2012 vs. 1700 plants in 2013 justify ANY tax money going to this “growing” problem… So spelling and math are hard?

    I guess we are lucky to be getting the state patrol fancy new pants and free helo rides…nice.

  • Troy Hendrickson

    Why should Iowans believe the authorities when the ODCP is one of the most dishonest agencies in Iowa? Especially when half the cops abuse the most dangerous drug in this country and the state is the largest dealer of the most dangeours drug?

  • tyler bogus

    no thats either hemp that guys weed, plus their MALES so no flowers no ,problem for any one of u law officials to bad for everyone else

  • Manuel

    In which part they confirm that it is a Cartel behind this and Mexican….
    so much bias in this report….
    for days they were talking about the mexican cartel
    where is the names, faces of that?

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