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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

5 Arrested in Seizure of 900 Pounds of Marijuana

Narcotics: Authorities raid two Santa Paula residences and a storage locker. They received tip from customs agents in Oxnard.

May 12, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after one of Ventura County's biggest busts of packaged pot, Sheriff's Department officials showed off their haul Thursday and released the names of four Santa Paula residents suspected in an international marijuana-smuggling ring.

Authorities raided two homes and a storage locker in Santa Paula on Wednesday morning after an ongoing investigation, seizing a total of about 900 pounds of pot, the largest nonfarm marijuana bust in the county in at least 10 years, officials said.

The total haul has an estimated street value of up to $4 million, authorities said.

"We're doing this every day," Capt. Bob Garcia said. "Sometimes we hit big."

Officers arrested 29-year-old Michael Solis and his wife, Tanya, 20, at their home in the 100 block of Ventura Street on suspicion of conspiracy, possession of drugs for sale and child endangerment after finding 894 pounds of powerful-smelling marijuana stored in bricks throughout the house. Bail was set at $500,000 for each of them.

The couple are suspected of child endangerment because they have two children, Garcia said.

"Not only is it inherently dangerous to have kids around drugs, they were putting their kids in danger" by inviting drug users into their home, he said.

Police also arrested Todd Stines, 29, and Melissa Arnold, 27, in their home in the 200 block of Harvard Street on suspicion of conspiracy and possession of marijuana for sale. Officers say they found about 20 pounds of marijuana in Stines' storage locker and four pounds in the couple's home. Their bail was set at $20,000 each.

Sheriff's officials said the two couples knew each other.

A visitor to the Harvard Street residence, Antonya Patters, 25, of Ventura, was arrested on suspicion of possessing an ounce of marijuana. She was booked into County Jail and released on her own recognizance.

Authorities believe that the drugs are coming from Mexico because of the characteristic way the marijuana was packaged in tight plastic, Garcia said.

The Sheriff's Department will keep the marijuana--a large hill of green bricks--as evidence and then have it incinerated, officials said.

The investigation began when U. S. Customs Service agents from Oxnard contacted detectives with information on the suspected dealers. Narcotics detectives were familiar with the suspects from previous investigations, Garcia said.

It's much less common to seize marijuana in brick form than for authorities to discover it growing on makeshift farms. The last big bust of marijuana smuggled to this area came in Santa Barbara County in 1994, when authorities discovered 7,242 pounds--valued at the time at $51 million--brought in from Colombia.

Garcia said he couldn't remember a bigger pot bust of this type in Ventura County within the past decade.

The county's most recent large-scale open-air pot bust was in 1998, when authorities discovered 1,157 high-grade plants in a remote area between Ojai and Santa Paula.

In 1996, amid a record year for pot cultivation within the county, authorities confiscated the largest number of plants--valued at about $25 million on the street--during several raids on a remote section of the Sespe National Wilderness Area north of Ojai.

Despite several high-profile drug busts in Santa Paula in recent years--including the seizure of 250 pounds of cocaine in 1998 after a man was forced to land his plane at Santa Paula Airport--authorities stressed that the city was not a center of Ventura County's drug trade.

"It just happened to be in Santa Paula this time," Garcia said. "Tomorrow it could be Thousand Oaks."

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