Pot grow suspects’ stories conflict
Two connected to 9,200 plants found on island
Two cousins arrested last week at the site of a massive illegal marijuana grow were being paid a pittance by someone in Sinaloa, Mexico, to manage some 9,200 plants on two Colorado River islands in De Beque Canyon, according to a statement one of the alleged farmers gave to federal agents.
Santos Ramirez-Alvarez, 37, and Santos Ramirez-Carrillo, 32, both Mexican nationals, were arrested Sept. 7 at a campsite on one of the islands after months of surveillance by federal, state and local officials. Each is facing at least 10 years in prison if convicted on drug conspiracy charges.
The islands are a quarter-mile apart, both in full view of Interstate 70 between mile posts 53 and 54.
A third suspect, believed by investigators to be Leonardo Perez-Rodriguez, escaped arrest.
According to an arrest affidavit written by a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, one of the cousins told investigators that someone arranged for him and his cousin to start the grows on the islands. He said he was paid a pittance for the round-the-clock work: $200 every 15 days, wired straight to his own family in Mexico.
The man said he didn’t know who was paying him, but that “bosses” for the grow were in Sinaloa, Mexico.
While the affidavit didn’t specify whether an organized crime connection is suspected in the case, Sinaloa — a seaside state in northwestern Mexico — is home to an infamous drug cartel once headed by now-incarcerated kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The other cousin, however, told a different story: that the two men had been acting on their own. He claimed that the pair had “rowed a boat from Denver down the river until they found the island and simply started the grow,” the affidavit said.
The DEA special agent did not mention in the document whether the geographical location of the Colorado River was pointed out to the suspect during the interview.
“When asked how he was resupplied, (the suspect) said they rowed their boat to the gas station in De Beque for supplies,” the report said. “It should be noted that no boats were located on the island.”
The affidavit said that the islands had been under surveillance since May, when agents from DEA and the Bureau of Land Management returned to the site where a man had been caught with several thousand marijuana seeds the year before.
Both men appeared Wednesday morning in a federal courtroom in Grand Junction, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher ordered they be held while awaiting prosecution.