By Tamas Mondovics
It was once again residents’ vigilance that led Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies to a continuing, and literally, a growing problem that affects Brandon and surrounding communities
According to HCSO Det. Larry McKinnon, District IV Street Crimes, deputies responded to 804 Regent Cir. N. in Brandon after receiving a drug complaint from a citizen.
When deputies arrived, they met with Rodolfo Leantaud, 45, and obtained written consent to search his residence, shortly after which deputies located a marijuana indoor-grow-operation within the garage of the residence, which McKinnon said was constructed for the sole purpose to cultivate marijuana.
“The garage was equipped with lights, ballasts, fans, CO2, an A/C Unit, and other miscellaneous items commonly used to cultivate marijuana,” he said.
Deputies found 42 six-foot-tall marijuana plants that were in the budding stage, all of which weighed approximately 160 pounds with an estimated street value of $640,000.
Typical of a drug grow house operation, all of the equipment was being powered via a bypassed metered electrical connection, deputies said, adding that Leantaud also had a 13-year-old living at the residence along with his wife, Magaly Cuevas.
Upon his arrest, Leantaud and Cuevas was charged with cultivation and trafficking of marijuana, own or lease of property for the purpose of trafficking in marijuana, along with child neglect.
Charges also included grand theft as the Tampa Electric Company was notified and responded to the scene to assist with the theft of electricity.
The 13-year-old was released to family members as the investigation continues.
The prevalence of such grow houses are nothing new and neither is what area residents can do to prevent illegal drug nurseries to take root in their neighborhood.
Following the discovery of another grow house only a few miles down the road in Brandon, McKinnon emphasized that drug nurseries come in many shapes and forms and can be inside million-dollar homes or small apartments, or as in the case of the latest one, inside a garage.
While Florida ranked on top for marijuana grow houses and as growers get smarter about concealing their operations, what remains the same is that no matter of how it is packaged, grow houses put residents in danger.
“These operations bring to the neighborhood both drug users and drug dealers and all the criminal elements that comes with that,” McKinnon said in an earlier interview.
Growers are rewiring homes to steal electricity from utility lines to avoid suspiciously high electric bills, and in the process create dangerous conditions.
To protect their crop, many growers utilize vicious dogs and create a hazardous environment for both young and old.
Residents are encouraged to be vigilante and as they see signs of a grow house, which includes blocked windows, electric power lines run illegally into the home, or fertilizer brought into the house without any sign of a garden or flowerbed, to call law enforcement or utilize the Crime Stoppers Tip hotline.
Anyone with any information or to report suspicious activity is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 247-8200, or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477). Report anonymously online at www.crimestopperstb.com or text “CSTB plus your tip” to C-R-I-M-E-S (274637).