The discovery of a large marijuana grow operation on Little Torch Key Thursday night may be tied to a larger criminal organization and other Florida Keys grow houses, Monroe County sheriff's detectives say.
About 130 plants worth an estimated $130,000 were seized from a small structure behind the house at 783 Diane Ave. Each plant was 6- to 8-feet-tall and ready to be harvested, reports say.
The room reportedly was rigged with special transformers, grow lights, and systems for cooling, irrigating and air purifying. Power had been diverted from the main electrical line before it reached the meter, reports say. Keys Energy Services disconnected power to the residence, and confirmed that about $3,132 worth of power was being stolen every month, based on the current flow of electricity, reports say.
Roberto Diaz Garrido, 39, of Hialeah, was charged with felony marijuana cultivation, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia. He agreed to a search after detectives noticed a strong odor of marijuana at the house, reports say.
"We see these types of operations every couple of months, but not usually anything this large," said Detective Sgt. Al Ramirez.
The case began when a road patrol deputy stopped Enoc Hernandez Fiallo, in a black Camero with purple stripes, for passing illegally and nearly hitting other cars in Islamorada, reports say. The deputy found fertilizer, marijuana seeds and other items in the car that are commonly used to grow marijuana, reports say. Detectives also found $3,000 and a piece of paper with the Diane Street address, Ramirez said.
Fiallo was arrested on a charge of driving with a suspended driver license.
"We felt this guy was coming from a grow house and, given the address we found, we decided to take a shot and go to the house," Ramirez said.
Detectives found the house rigged "nearly identically" to a home on Park Drive in Key Largo in which 34 plants were found in June, Ramirez said. The detective noted that when they booked Garrido into jail, he appeared to know an inmate arrested in that June incident -- Omar Martinez Moya, also from Hialeah.
"They shook each others' hands and began talking with each other in Spanish," Ramirez said. "It's very coincidental that a person arrested for the identical thing knows this guy and they're talking and both are from Hialeah. What we see with these cases is people who enter the country with alien smugglers come down here and baby-sit these grow houses in order to work off their debt."
The operation is "definitely organized and I'm sure somebody in Miami is running the show and that there are more houses like this down here," Ramirez said.
More arrests could be pending as the investigation continues.
"Neighbors at the house last night told us they thought something was suspicious about the house, so we want to remind everyone to call us if you suspect anything unusual," Ramirez said. "We often really rely on that kind of information."
The last pot bust the size of the one Thursday night occurred six years ago when detectives removed 200 plants from a house in Marathon, Ramirez said.