State, Chester Co. authorities make pot bust worth $37M

CHESTER -- State and local authorities found the largest plot of marijuana ever discovered in Chester County on Monday afternoon, Sheriff Robby Benson said.

More than 15,000 plants, with an estimated street value of more than $37 million, were found just before noon when a State Law Enforcement Division helicopter performed a routine aerial check of the county, Benson said.

No arrests had been made in the case late Monday.

The plants were found in the woods about a mile off Old Mill Road in the southern part of the county, just a few miles from where authorities found thousands of plants last year, Benson said.

On Monday, investigators found a campsite complete with food and a small generator. They found similar sites at the other pot farms last year.

The dense crop was spread over about five acres, Benson said. Forestry officials cut a road to the farm and law enforcement used ATVs to get to the plants, which they pulled and plan to burn today.

The National Guard and Fort Lawn and Chester police assisted in the eradication, Benson said.

"You expect this to happen in counties like Chester County," Benson said of the pot find. "Because it's a rural county."

After several large marijuana finds last year, authorities said that such operations -- which some suspect have West Coast roots -- caused some concern because they were relatively new to the state.

They said the plants were growing on farms tended by people living on someone else's land. Investigators have found campsites complete with food and gardening supplies. The sole arrest in all the raids was an illegal immigrant from Colombia.

Authorities will continue to fly over Chester County to check for marijuana, Benson said, trying to push the unwanted farmers out of the county.

"Hopefully, they'll catch on," he said.

Monday's pot find comes on the heels of last week's discovery of 17,000 marijuana plants in Lancaster County. Cultivating marijuana is a crime that carries a minimum 25-year prison sentence and a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Last summer, Chester County officials seized more than 26,500 marijuana plants valued at nearly $47 million, and in Lancaster County authorities seized more than 8,000 plants worth $16 million.

York County drug agents have also been searching the ground for grass this year, but so far have discovered fewer than 100 plants, said Marvin Brown, head of the county's drug unit.

"We scared them away, I guess," said Brown, who noted that York County led the state in marijuana discoveries several years ago. "We staked the fields out and they quit doing it here. ... I think we pushed them south."