By Jeff Lehr
It might not be that big an indoor marijuana-growing operation by northern California standards.
But, for Missouri?
“This was the biggest and most sophisticated operation we’ve ever encountered,” Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said.
A tip led a sheriff’s deputy to a house west of Joplin at 3540 Whispering Hills on Friday afternoon. A search that followed turned up hundreds of marijuana plants of multiple strains and hybrids, and in various stages of growth and cultivation.
“Every room in the house had something to do with the operation,” the sheriff said.
Four rooms were full of plants under grow lights, with duct work and vents for humidifying, electrical control panels with timers, and clipboards with schedules for treatments, he said. Other rooms were dedicated to drying and packaging.
There were 396 plants in all. One hundred and seven half-pound to one-pound packages of processed pot were also found. The sheriff said a Drug Enforcement Administration agent from Springfield estimated the value of the indoor operation at $850,000.
Arrested and charged with first-degree trafficking in marijuana was Michael S. Holden, 35.
“He was the only one around and claimed to be the only one involved,” Copeland said.
Federal court records show this is not the first time Holden has been nabbed with an alleged growing operation. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison in May 2005 for an operation in Newton County involving more than 100 plants. He was still under court supervision for that conviction as late as 2011.
Copeland said Holden told him that he was not released until about 10 months ago. The sheriff said investigators believe his operation had been up and running for at least a few months.
Recent electrical bills for the residence where a large marijuana-growing operation was discovered have been running at about $1,000 per month, according to the Newton County sheriff.