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Shiprock raid: Law enforcement operation leads to large-scale marijuana bust

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC — Law enforcement officers eradicated approximately 260,000 live plants and took an estimated 30 tons of evidence during a large-scale, multi-agency marijuana crackdown led by the FBI from Nov. 9 to Nov. 11 at 21 farms and two residences near Shiprock, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement officers found marijuana in 1,107 grow houses, and there were dozens more under construction, the press release states.

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In addition to the 30 tons of evidence and the live plants, agents found 19 trash bags filled with about 1,000 pounds of fully-processed marijuana that was in baggies and ready for distribution. These bags were found under a tarp in a grow house.

James Langenberg, a special agent in charge of the Albuquerque FBI Division, praised the operation and said it kept high-grade marijuana off America's streets.

Plants that authorities say are marijuana are pictured during a raid in Shiprock.

"One thing I know for certain: We made a huge difference not only on the Navajo Nation, but in countless other communities," he said in the press release. "The FBI is extremely proud to have been a part of this significant operation and thanks the many partners who contributed to its success."

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez also praised the operation, which he said in a statement took "a lot of time, coordination and resources to execute."

"The coordinated efforts and tireless work of all involved has brought the much-needed resolution to the marijuana operations and has given the Navajo Nation citizens, as well as the surrounding communities, peace of mind," Navajo Police Chief Philip Francisco said in the press release. "This operation is a testament to the professionalism of law enforcement, who have worked diligently to ensure the safety of our communities."

Phillip Francisco

The Navajo Police Department has closed its incident command system, which was set up in September to address reports about the farms and concerns from community members. They also disconnected a hotline that was handling telephone calls about farm operations.

"The team responded to daily calls regarding a wide spectrum of complaints and public safety concerns from reports of suspicious activities, family disputes, land disputes, traffic safety concerns, to tips regarding farm activities," according to the Nov. 14 post on the department's Facebook page.

The update states that police officers continue to address sporadic reports of employees returning to farms to collect personal items and officers have posted warning signs that state any attempt to restart cannabis growing on the Navajo Nation would result in criminal charges under tribal law.

The operation last week included the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Mexico, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Criminal Investigations Division, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

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Tribal, state and local agencies included the Navajo Police Department, the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations, the New Mexico State Police, the Region II Narcotics Task Force, the New Mexico Army National Guard, the San Juan County Sheriff's Office, the Farmington Police Department, the Aztec Police Department, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Navajo Police Department officers post a warning on Nov. 13 that states any attempt to restart cannabis growing on the Navajo Nation would result in criminal charges under tribal law.

"This case had many jurisdictional hurdles. Thanks to the longstanding partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement, we came together to stop a significant criminal enterprise in our community," San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari said in the press release. "San Juan County is truly blessed to have these dedicated professionals to keep our communities safe."

Reporter Noel Lyn Smith contributed to this report.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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