By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
The Erath County District Attorney has filed a Notice of Lis Pendens in the 266th District Court to seize property associated with a large marijuana growing operation discovered in the southern part of Erath County in July.
Alan Nash acknowledged his office was moving forward with the intent to seize more than 60 acres of land. When news of the drug raid conducted July 17 first came to light, it was believed only 10-20 acres of “public land” was being used as part of the operation. But more details are beginning to surface, and there appears to be a significant federal investigation going on that Nash said his office has nothing to do with.
Neither does the Erath County Sheriff’s Department as Sheriff Tommy Bryant explained Friday, saying his department was only assisting with the federal investigation and he was unaware as to who or what is the focus of that investigation.
Nash filed a Petitioner’s Original Notice of Seizure and Intended Forfeiture against Austin resident Omar Lopez as respondent #1 in the case. Erath County Central Appraisal District records show Lopez recently purchased three properties in 2014-15.
As part of that process, Nash introduced a seizure affidavit sworn to by an Erath County Sheriff’s Department investigator. ECSO Sgt. Cameron Ray’s testimony shows the marijuana operation might not have been 10,000 plants as first reported, but it was still a significantly large operation.
SGT. CAMERON RAY SEIZURE AFFIDAVIT AUGUST 4, 2015
“Before me, the undersigned authority, personally appeared Cameron W Ray, being duly sworn, deposed as follows:
My name is Cameron Ray, I am a certified peace officer under the laws of the state of Texas, I am a Sgt. investigator with the Erath County Sheriff’s office in Stephenville, Erath County, Texas I am over the age of 18, and have personal knowledge of the facts asserted below and am competent to testify to those facts.
On July 10, 2015 Texas Department of Public Safety, Criminal Investigation Division (CID), special agent Chris Dale accompanied Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) pilot Kenny Powers, and a DEA Tactical Flight Officer Matt McCord on an aerial surveillance flight over suspect outdoor marijuana grows in southern Erath County, Texas.
During aerial surveillance agent Dale observed rows of corn crops that appeared to look different than those observed in neighboring fields and after further inspection agent Dale believed that two suspected places were concealing an active illegal operation of cultivated marijuana plants within cornfields located in southern Erath County.
On July 15, 2015, Special Agent Dale participated in a second aerial surveillance flight with DPS pilot TJ McQuagge and Tactical Flight Officer Gil Martinez over the suspected places to further inspect the abnormalities observed in rows of the crops.
A high-altitude surveillance camera was utilized during the second flight and agent Dale was able to confirm that the irregular patterns in the rows of crops were indeed marijuana plants. Agent Dale also observed what appeared to be three unknown males walking in and around the area of the suspected place where your affiant observed suspected marijuana plants.
Agent Dale found that the property contained numerous cultivated rows of what agent Dale recognized for his training and experience to be marijuana plants. Each plant was in an individual area that had been cleared of debris and appears to be concealed between rows of corn crops.
The marijuana plants did not resemble the corn crop vegetation and have a distinct emerald green color consistent with marijuana plants. Special Agent Dale observed that some of the marijuana plants had a visible discoloration of the topsoil directly around the marijuana plants that indicated extensive watering of the marijuana plants.
The marijuana grow locations were in a remote area and is shielded from view from the roadway by trees and tall plant vegetation. It is apparent that the caretakers of these marijuana plants appeared to have gone to great measures to utilize this location to ensure that the operation was not discovered or compromised.
On July 17, 2015, Sgt. Cameron Ray assisted with DPS investigators with the search of the active marijuana cultivation operation Erath County on private property. (GPS coordinates given here).
During the assists with DPS investigators, the property was found to be adjacent to Green’s Creek which was utilized to assist with illegally growing of marijuana. Investigators determined the purpose of said property was used to illegally grow and maintain approximately 5,852 marijuana plants discovered on July 17.
Sgt. Cameron Ray has reason to believe the said property seized from this location was utilized illegally grow marijuana. Therefore Sgt. Ray seized the property. The property seized is listed on Schedule “A” which is attached to this affidavit.
Based upon the foregoing, and based further upon my training and experience in law enforcement and criminal investigation, is my belief the property described in schedule and constitutes contraband under chapter 59 of the Texas code of criminal procedures. I wish to seize the above property in accordance with and pursuant to chapter 59 of the Texas code of criminal procedures.”
Nash declined further comment on the marijuana grow operation, citing it is a federal investigation. He also declined to comment if his office was currently investigating potential irregularities in the prior sales and transactions of the properties.
Agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations Division, the Texas Highway Patrol, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Texas Army National Guard, investigators with the Mineral Wells Police Department and Palo Pinto County Sheriff’s Office worked with Erath County Sheriff’s Department investigators during the raid, which included helicopters.
Despite the huge display from law enforcement, no arrests have come from the incident and the three suspects sighted during the second surveillance flight were not found. There has been a heavy veil of silence around the raid to include vague “public land” descriptions with initial reports.
In the aftermath of the raid, no one seemed to know who had title to the property, and at least one of the parcels has gone through land transactions that appear questionable. None of the transactions appear to have been made through a title insurance company.
There are more people and companies associated with the seizure than Omar Lopez. One of them lists on his website that he has worked for U.S. Customs and Homeland Security. Who is this honor graduate of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center? Stay plugged into The Flash Today as we bring you more details of questionable land deals and the marijuana plants that ended up on those properties.