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He Found Suspects Without a Compass

September 09, 2006|Garrett Therolf | Times Staff Writer

Flagging down a ride in Silverado Canyon, an Orange County sheriff's spokesman stumbled upon thousands of dollars in cash, a fully loaded weapon and two "persons of interest" in the investigation of a large marijuana farm nearby.

"It was unbelievable," said Jim Amormino, the spokesman, not a sworn officer.

One of the men, Ruben Aguilar, 39, was later booked at Orange County Jail on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of a loaded firearm. Officials did not release the other man's name.

The marijuana crop was first spotted Thursday by a helicopter surveying the canyon.

When officers hiked into the area Friday morning, they discovered a vacant, makeshift camp far from any roads. It appeared to house 10 people and was surrounded by 3,800 marijuana plants that looked to be several months old and ready to harvest at an estimated $1-million value, Amormino said.

Amormino led a reporter from KABC and a cameraman from KTTV on a 1 1/2 -hour hike into the area with an agreement that they would share the story with other news organizations. During the trek, the group got lost and emerged on a fire road.

Amormino waved down a pickup and pleaded with the driver and passenger for a ride back to their vehicles. The men -- dressed in gardening uniforms -- initially refused, but Amormino said they finally relented.

When Amormino and the television crew loaded into the back of the pickup, he said the men acted nervous, looking back repeatedly at the trio in the truck bed.

Amormino said he smelled marijuana on the two men. Amormino said he notified deputies and the pickup was stopped. A search of the truck uncovered thousands of dollars in cash and a fully loaded assault gun with extra ammunition in the cab.

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