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Police describe ‘sophisticated grow’

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The man renting a Franklin building where police discovered a large marijuana-growing operation told the owner he was working on an invention and needed complete privacy.

The growing operation that contained nearly 500 plants was a complex system that could run on its own, police said. Police found a calendar tracking planting and harvest dates, expensive growing lights that could be moved up or down as plants grew, a circulating irrigation system that recycled its own water and multiple automatic timers that would flip the various systems on and off as needed.

None of the irrigation systems was running when police entered the building at Hurricane Road and Eastview Drive, but the pumps automatically flipped on a short time later while police were investigating, Franklin Deputy Police Chief Chris Tennell said.

“This guy knew what he was doing. It was a pretty sophisticated grow,” Tennell said.

The building sits at a high-traffic intersection, but the pot-growing operation likely went undetected for so long because it is heavily automated, Tennell said. The building was also sealed so anyone passing by wouldn’t notice anything unusual.

Franklin police discovered the growing operation on Feb. 22 after an officer stopped a vehicle near the building. During the stop, he smelled marijuana, determined it wasn’t coming from the car and was instead being vented out of the nearby building. Police got a search warrant, went inside and found the marijuana.

No charges have been filed; no arrests have been made; and the investigation is ongoing.

Investigators contacted the man who has rented the building since October 2012, but he hired an attorney and is not talking to police, Tennell said. Police are continuing to gather information and attempting to locate the other people involved in the growing operation, Tennell said.

Police asked residents to call in with any information that might be connected and have received some useful tips, including information from other police departments and names of people who live in the area that had been associated with other pot-growing operations, Tennell said.

Police know that other people were involved with the growing operation and are trying to find them, he said. Investigators have talked to the owner of the building, as well as other nearby properties, and he is cooperating and sharing information with police, Tennell said.

The utilities for the building were not in the owner’s name, but police would not say whose name was on the bills. Police have subpoenaed all of those bills and have been able to determine that the growing operation likely started in December 2012 or early January 2013, Tennell said.

The growing operation was using about 800 of the 2,400 square feet in the brick building. The 500 plants, which included seedlings, counted by Indiana State Police would produce about 31 pounds of marijuana. If the operation were running continuously at that size, it would produce at least 186 pounds of marijuana per yer.

Since the marijuana was being raised with frequent light, watering and care, the end product would be higher quality to smokers and therefore have a higher street price, Tennell said. High-quality marijuana could sell for as much as $300 an ounce compared to low-quality marijuana, which would cost about $100 per ounce. Assuming an average price of $200 per ounce, those 500 plants represent about $100,000 worth of pot, Tennell said.

Marijuana likely had been growing at that building for more than a year before police discovered it. The growers likely didn’t start out with 500 plants and probably added lights and pumps over time, Tennell said.

The inside walls were sealed with thick, insulating wrap that is often used to seal houses under construction before bricks or siding are put up. That wrap covered the windows and doors, so someone driving past at midnight wouldn’t see a light on in what appeared to be a vacant industrial building, Tennell said.

Inside, the lights, irrigation and vents were controlled by automatic timers so the system wasn’t running nonstop. The irrigation system was self-circulating so that new water would not need to be continually added.

The growing lights, which police said cost about $2,000 each, were on adjustable supports so they could be easily raised as the marijuana plants grew taller and then lowered back down when a new shorter set of plants were swapped in, Tennell said.

Since the vents were hooked up to the timers, air would be pumped out of the building only at certain times, Tennell said. The vents could be heard from outside the building, so they likely weren’t running all the time, he said. That meant the traffic stop leading to the discovery happened to come at just the right place and time to uncover the operation.

Police interviewed nearby businesses and property owners, and none had any idea that a large marijuana operation was nearby. On the night of the raid, police didn’t expect to find anything as large as they did inside the building either, Tennell said.

“They didn’t know they weren’t going to walk in on a guy sitting on a plastic bucket smoking a joint,” Tennell said.

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