Dozens of smuggled people found working in ‘horrible’ conditions at illegal California pot plant

27 July 2023

MERCED, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of people who apparently were smuggled into the United States were found working and living in “horrible” conditions at an illegal marijuana plant in California’s Central Valley, authorities said Thursday.

Deputies served a search warrant Wednesday afternoon at a site on unincorporated land near the city of Merced and discovered the operation. Images posted online by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office showed trays, bags and boxes stuffed with what looked to be marijuana in a run-down interior space.

“We literally have thousands of pounds of finished marijuana from an illegal grow and illegal source,” Sheriff Vern Warnke said in a video.

Deputies found 60 people working there including men and women who were offered various unspecified resources, plus one juvenile, who was seen by child welfare authorities and released to a parent, the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

“Our investigators learned that these individuals arrived at the property several days prior with the promise that they would have a good-paying job and a place to stay,” the statement said.

“Once there, they were forced to process marijuana while staying in horrible living conditions to pay back the individuals that brought them across the border,” it continued, without giving details on those conditions.

“These folks are indentured, they owe money … they’re scared to death,” Warnke said.

“It’s heart-wrenching. So we’re going to try and take care of these folks,” he added.

Authorities didn’t disclose their countries of origin.

Three goats and two dogs that were not being cared for adequately were also rescued, according to the statement.

No arrests were made but investigators were “working tirelessly to find the individuals responsible,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

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