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  • California Department of Justice

    Marijuana plants seized in a growing operation near Elk Grove were valued by authorities at $8.3 million, once processed. A helicopter first spotted the plants growing in a cornfield.

  • California Department of Justice

    A helicopter is used Monday in a state team's marijuana-growing bust near Elk Grove.

Elk Grove-area pot bust nets 17 arrests, 1,400 plants

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 18, 2012 - 7:56 am

Seventeen people were arrested and nearly 1,400 plants seized when state drug agents shut down a multimillion-dollar marijuana growing operation Monday near Elk Grove.

The 7 a.m. raid by the state's Mountain and Valley Marijuana Investigation Team wrapped up a monthlong investigation into the grow, tucked into a cornfield and processed in a barn east of Interstate 5 near Lambert Road, said California Department of Justice spokeswoman Michelle Gregory.

Agents valued the yield at $8.3 million once processed, Gregory said.

First spotted by helicopter, the operation was "a good size" and "sophisticated," Gregory said, adding that the plants were mature, topping out at 6 to 7 feet tall on the 12-acre property.

Photos showed the harvested marijuana drying on racks under the shade of the barns and equipment that the agents believe was used to process the pot.

Agents are finding more pot plots among corn and other flatland crops, Gregory said, as growers move their operations out of the forested foothills.

Of the 17 arrested, seven were being booked into Sacramento County jail on allegations of possession, possession for sale, cultivation and conspiracy.

The seven included Kao Choy Saechao, 46, of Sacramento, who is alleged to have led the operation. Also booked were Kao Fin Saelee, 28; Lou Saelee, 21; Loe Chiew Saechao, 44; Lao Liam Saetern, 38; Wonh Minh, 53; and Phillip Saechao, 61, all of south Sacramento.

Gregory said Kao Fin Saelee is a suspected gang member but said it was unknown whether the grow was a gang-related operation.

Ten others face the same allegations but were not being booked into county custody, Gregory said.

Authorities believe they were laborers hired to pull in the illicit crop.

"It's harvest season right now. They were brought in to get the stuff processed," Gregory said.

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