PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla.- Two deputies who were looking for someone with an outstanding warrant wound up discovering an elaborate grow-house operation after smelling a strong odor of marijuana coming from 21346 Hepner Avenue. The deputies notified the Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit that began an investigation.
On Thursday May 16, armed with a search warrant for the address, members of the Narcotics Unit and the SWAT team entered the residence. While the SWAT team was checking the house for occupants, two men dressed in full-body chemical suits and gloves ran out a side door. They were taken into custody at the rear of a nearby shed where they were taking off the chemical suits, trying to stuff them under the shed.
The men were identified as Omar Eduardo Sanchez, 55, and Ryan Adam Smith, 28, both of 21346 Hepner Avenue.
During the search of the residence, detectives found that the entire main living space of the home had been converted into a marijuana growing operation. There were grow lights suspended from the ceiling. Additional air conditioning units were present and electricity had been diverted from the meter, running out of the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. Detectives seized 122 marijuana plants which weighed 178.5 pounds.
A third man, Clyde Wiley Dennis, 43, also of the same address, arrived at the house while detectives were searching it. He was also taken into custody.
Dennis, Sanchez and Smith were all booked into the Charlotte County Jail on charges of Trafficking in Cannabis, Cultivation of Cannabis and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. The total bond for each man was set at $28,500. Dennis and Smith bonded out; Sanchez was still being held at the county jail.
Aside from being illegal, grow house operations, such as this one present many dangers to the occupants of the house as well as potential dangers to the neighborhood. Growing operations can produce poisonous fumes and improper disposal of chemicals used can present an environmental hazard. When electrical power is diverted, such as was found in this case, there is a danger of fires and electrocution due to the re-wiring.
Sheriff Bill Prummell said, "We will continue our aggressive battle on all levels against drug activity in our county."
Anyone with knowledge of illegal drug activity is asked to please call the CCSO Narcotics Unit at 941-575-2157, or Crime Stoppers at 800-780-TIPS (8477).