MONROE — Six houses in opulent neighborhoods were converted to high-tech marijuana factories, where authorities seized more than 115 pounds of pot and 3,370 growing plants worth a combined $10 million — New Jersey’s largest marijuana seizure ever, according to a report from the Cliffview Pilot.
“We have not seen anything to match the volume of production of this criminal enterprise,” said Attorney General Paula T. Dow.
Previous arrests taught the growers to rent to own, rather than risk property seizures, authorities said. They sought owners outside the state “to avoid nosy intrusions,” Dow said.
They chose opulent houses in beautiful suburban neighborhoods, such as Monroe Township in Middlesex County, with rents as high as $4,000 per month, some with original values in excess of $1 million. One was so badly damaged by the cultivation alterations that it’s uninhabitable. Others will require thousands of dollars in repairs.
The plants seized apparently were cloned from others, using clippings rather than grown from seed, authorities said.
The growers reworked electrical systems not only to accommodate the extensive lighting needed but also to bypass meters, stealing huge amounts of electricity, authorities said. One house had 74 lights of 1,000 watts each distributed throughout several grow rooms.
The overloads could have easily sparked dangerous fires, they noted.
The growers also cut 12-inch holes through the floors from the basement to the attic to vent out the exhaust heat and odor.
The bust began with a single cop, Monroe Police Officer Thomas Lucasiewicz, who smelled the odor of burnt marijuana coming from the chimney of a house on Spotswood-Englishtown Road about a month ago.
Lucasiewicz arrested Thu N. Nguyen, 44, after police knocked on the door “and were faced with overpowering evidence that Nguyen was burning unusable parts of pot plants in the home’s fireplace,” said Monroe Police Chief John Kraivec.
The locals immediately got a search warrant and asked the New Jersey State Police Eradication Squad for help. They soon found surveillance cameras monitoring the outside of the home.
In the basement, they found three cultivation areas, with another grow area set up in the master bedroom. They seized 1,064 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, along with about 50 pounds of packaged pot from a garage, authorities said.
Nguyen, a Canadian citizen, was charged with various drug and other counts, and was ordered held on $1 million cash bail in the Middlesex Count Jail.
The next day, police obtained more warrants and hit three houses and a vehicle, harvesting 504 actively growing plants and approximately 50 pounds of harvested bulk marijuana from one home, where they arrested two naturalized citizens, Tuan A. Dang, 35, of Port Monmouth and Ngoc H. Bui, 35, of Old Bridge were both located and arrested at this house.
At Bui’s home, they said, they found 640 plants with 15 pounds of packaged marijuana in a vehicle parked in the garage, $60,000 in cash, packaging materials (vacuum bags), growth notebooks and fertilization notes.
Another search in Manahawkin turned up 464 plants, lights, timers and “equipment used to divert electricity prior to the utility’s meter,” police said. A nearby home held 698 plants and a quantity of grow equipment, they said.
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