LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - On Thursday, October 21, 2010, at approximately 7:55 a.m., a 9-1-1 operator with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office received a call about a suspicious vehicle. Deputies were dispatched to 734 Laramie Avenue in Lehigh Acres.
Upon arrival, an unoccupied vehicle was found in the driveway of the vacant home, but no one was found in or near the vehicle. As deputies began to canvas the area, a woman was seen coming out of a wooded area. She was detained and questioned. The vehicle belonged to her and she was subsequently arrested and charged for loitering and prowling.
Meanwhile, deputies had gone to 725 La Plata Avenue to contact the homeowner during the canvas. While approaching the front door a strong odor of fresh marijuana was evident. Additionally, other indicators of a grow house operation were revealed. As a result, detectives with the Sheriff's Office Narcotics Unit were notified and assumed the investigation.
A search warrant was obtained and upon entry an elaborate operation was found. One room contained a large amount of harvested drying plants as well as a number of live juvenile plants. A second room was filled with adult plants ready for harvest. In total, 58 live plants with a street value of $232,000 and 31 pounds of dried, harvested marijuana with a street value of $124,000 was removed.
The entire residence and property was also being used to practice Santeria a syncretic religion of Caribbean origin with Roman Catholic and Native Indian traditions often used by narcotic traffickers to ward off law enforcement and protect their investment; in this case their marijuana crop. The religion sometimes includes the practice of animal sacrifice, evidence of which was observed throughout the property.
49 year old Maria Payret of Miami was charged with loitering and prowling.