When a three-story house in Maple Valley caught fire Saturday morning, it didn't take the firefighters who arrived on the scene very long to figure out what had sparked the blaze. The house was filled with approximately 900 pot plants at various stages of the growth cycle, along with air filters, high-powered lights, and a fuse box that had been tampered with to avoid running up the electric bill--all the trappings of an indoor marijuana-growing operation.
Maple Valley police initially stated that the grow house is "part of a criminal organization that has been active in the region," but pressed for details, the cops conceded it could have just been the work of a few enterprising pot farmers.
Maple Valley police spokesman Jim Corey tells Seattle Weekly that the house contained "one of the most sophisticated" weed-growing setups he's seen in his 30-year law enforcement career.
"It's not something where anybody is living or residing in it," Corey says. "It is purchased solely to conduct an illegal grow operation and not attract any attention . . . This house had three floors and about 4,000 square feet. They wall-boarded over all the windows and different rooms were constructed to house different stages of growing of plants. It's not your typical person who converts their unfinished basement into a grow op."
But while Corey repeated his claim that the house was part of an organized crime network--a statement that went unchallenged in a story by the Covington Reporter that was republished by other news outlets--he acknowledges that there's currently no evidence to corroborate that belief.
Only a fraction of the house was damaged during the fire--specifically the area around the jury-rigged fuse box--and Corey says police did not recover any weapons, cash, or other types of drugs. Rather, Corey says he believes the house was tied to organized crime because the setup resembled something he'd seen previously in a house in Enumclaw a year ago, and another operation in Panther Lake (near Kent) "a couple years ago."
"I don't have any specific name [of a criminal network], but this is something that is organized," Corey says. "I suppose it depends what your definition of organized crime is. If you're talking the Mafia, no, I'm not suggesting that. But somebody who buys and purchases a house and invests in $50,000 worth of equipment to facilitate a large-scale grow-up, to me that's a criminal enterprise. You're not somebody trying to supplement income."
But couldn't it also be that somebody--a single individual or a small group of individuals--bought a house intending to grow a whole lot of pot? (Around $900,000 worth, according to Corey's calculations, which assume that each plant is worth $1,000.)
"I suppose semantics-wise it depends on what is or what is not a criminal enterprise or network," Corey continues. "I can't attribute this to a specific person or organization, but I would anticipate that if at some point we are able to identify the participants, I would assume we'd find that this is what they do."
Yup. They (whoever they are) grow grass, and it sounds like they were doing a pretty good job of it right up to the point that their house--and illicit business--went up in flames.