SANTA CLARITA — Aware that detectives were closing in on him, an Agua Dulce man suspected along with three others of growing hundreds of marijuana plants in a Chatsworth house surrendered Thursday, sheriff's deputies said.
David Clark, 40, walked into the Santa Clarita sheriff's station about 2 p.m., said Capt. Al Scaduto of the sheriff's Narcotics Bureau. "He knew we had him," he said. "We left messages with people he was in contact with."
In raids Wednesday on a Chatsworth home and an Agua Dulce residence where authorities say Clark lives, Sheriff's Department narcotics detectives arrested the other three suspects and discovered about 1,800 marijuana plants they estimated to be worth at least $20 million.
Also raided were homes in Canoga Park and Northridge where detectives found more than $150,000 in cash, drying marijuana plants and pot packaged and ready for sale, authorities said.
The six-bedroom Chatsworth house had been turned into a large indoor pot plantation. Each room in the 4,000-square-foot house in the 23300 block of Needles Street was packed with marijuana plants, from inch-high seedlings to stalks 5 feet tall. Water hoses and pipes pumped water through hallways and up and down stairs.
Growing lights heated the rooms, some as hot as 100 degrees, and fans blew cool air among the marijuana leaves.
The lights and irrigation system operated on timers and about a dozen transformers boosted the house's electrical power supply. In the bathrooms stood 55-gallon barrels of chemical fertilizer.
Cultivating the marijuana indoors under constant light and "force feeding" the plants enables growers to produce marijuana faster than if the plants were grown outside where it is sunny only part of the day and temperate part of the year, Scaduto said.
On Wednesday, detectives arrested Victor and Linda Dejoria, both 54, at their residence, at a mobile home on Woolsey Canyon Road in Canoga Park. In 1993, the Dejorias had been arrested on charges of growing 1,000 marijuana plants at their home in Malibu, which at that time was the largest such seizure in county history.
Victor Dejoria was convicted and sentenced to a jail term in that case. Charges against Linda Dejoria were dropped then, authorities said.
In Wednesday's incident, authorities also arrested Wayne Iannola, 35, of Northridge as he drove away from the house on Needles Street, deputies said.
The four suspects were being held on $250,000 bail each in the Santa Clarita sheriff's station jail. All face charges of cultivating marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale, Scaduto said.
Neighbors told detectives that they often saw people drive to and from the house, but that they never seemed to stay long. A check of the house electric bill provided authorities with another clue: The monthly bill ranged from $1,500 to $1,700, compared to neighboring houses that averaged about $100 a month, Scaduto said.
Sheriff's deputies said they estimated the worth of the marijuana using a formula involving the number of plants, the expected yield from each plant and the price per pound in particular markets.
The street price per pound can range from $300 to several thousand dollars, depending on factors such as the quality of the product and how far the drug has traveled--which can increase the price because many brokers along the way may be taking a profit, narcotics detectives said.
Thursday, authorities said 1,669 plants--most of them mature or close to maturity--had been confiscated from the Chatsworth location. Another 100 were found at the Agua Dulce home where authorities say Clark lived.
Each one of the plants could have yielded between eight ounces and a pound of high-grade buds for smoking, which could have sold for $4,000 to $5,000 per pound, said Det. John Cater of the Los Angeles Police Department narcotics unit.
The plants would produce up to three crops per year, deputies said, and thus could have brought in from $20 million to $24 million, plus any money made from selling the lower-grade leaves and other plant parts.
Authorities would not reveal all the details about how the price per pound in the Chatsworth or other cases is figured, said Sgt. Paul Scauzillo of the Sheriff's Department's analytical unit.
He said prices are estimates, anyway.
"People want numbers, but there's no official pricing on dope. It's the underground market," he said. "It's not like you can go to Ralphs and get a price check."
Investigators determine the street value of marijuana through gathered intelligence including, among other things, information provided by busted dealers and informants.
Several factors could influence the price of marijuana on the street.
Among them, indoor-grown plants, ordinarily more potent because they are chemically treated, can be more expensive. On the other hand, outdoor plants can create equal profits because, though they may not be as potent, they can yield a higher content of the finished product from bigger buds.