Multi-agency operation in Anza Valley nets $189M worth of pot, 8 arrests

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Sheriff Chad Bianco, seen here speaking to press during a cannabis enforcement activity at the Riverside County Sheriff's Command Center at Hamilton High School, has banned the use of chokeholds by all Riverside County Sheriff Deputies. Diane Sieker photo

Upward of 700 law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies descended on the communities of Anza, Aguanga and Sage, Wednesday, June 5, to perform an illegal marijuana cultivation operation conducted by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and spearheaded by the Hemet Sheriff’s Station.

When it was all said and done, the operation resulted in the confiscation of more than 140,877 marijuana plants worth an estimated $189 million on the street and the arrest of eight people on a variety of charges.

According to Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Bureau Sergeant Albert Martinez, 3,037 pounds of processed marijuana, 17 rifles and 10 handguns were also seized, and 70 tons of plants were disposed of with the help of the Department of Waste Resources at the Lamb Canyon Landfill.

The eight people arrested for the illegal cultivation of marijuana during the operation were Hien Dinhnguyen, 63, of Hemet; Dehvi Zheng, 44, of Anza, Tieu Hoang, 64, of Oakland and Zhenfu Lin, 31, of Anza.

Guoyong Jiang, 48, of Rosemead, Quynn Hoang, 61, of Oakland and Fu Cnang, 66, of Aguanga were arrested for conspiracy.

Mexican national, 33-year-old Felix Hernan was arrested as a wanted fugitive.

Valley News Managing Editor Kim Harris asked the Riverside County Sheriff’s Media Information Bureau questions surrounding the likelihood of obtaining convictions for those arrested.

“It is unfortunate that sometimes individuals choose to deviate from the mandates of our local courts,” the bureau responded. “We can never predict an individual’s willingness to cooperate with directions of the California court system. Our job is to ensure the laws are being enforced.”

In all, 118 illegal marijuana grow locations were served with search warrants within the 265 square miles of the Anza Valley. As of press time, the Sheriff’s Department has not released the cost associated with conducting the operation.

The joint effort kicked off early Wednesday morning, with a staging area established at Hamilton High School, 57430 Mitchell Road, in Anza.

On social media, the sheriff’s department issued a statement warning residents of “heavy police activity” throughout the Anza Valley, adding “there is no threat to public safety” and “we have no additional releasable information at this time.”

Reports from residents on social media indicated running into roadblocks and witnessing numerous raids happening simultaneously throughout the area, as well as a military helicopter could be seen prowling the skies.

The copter was later used to transport piles of cut and stacked marijuana plants to trucks for disposal.

The San Diego County Sheriff, Orange County Sheriff, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Kern County Sheriff, Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Riverside Police, Hemet Police, Murrieta Police, Cathedral City Police, Riverside County Gang Task Force, PACT Team, Coachella Valley Narcotic Task Force, California Fish and Game, FBI, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Cal Fire, American Medical Response, Riverside County Animal Services, California Water Board, Riverside County Code Enforcement and the Riverside Sheriff’s Association all assisted in the operation.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s later thanked the California Army National Guard for use of equipment and vehicles in the transportation and destruction of marijuana.

During the course of the operation, Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Valley News that he knows that the majority of marijuana that is being grown in the area is being shipped out of state.

“They get a lot more money for it out of state,” he said. “The legitimate market for marijuana is not as profitable as the black market and that is what the majority of this is.”

According to the department, the operation was conducted partly at the request of Anza Valley residents.

“Sheriff Bianco heard and responded to the Anza Valley community member’s concerns and complaints regarding illegal marijuana cultivation and authorized the Hemet Sheriff’s Station Investigation’s Bureau to research and investigate these illegal marijuana cultivation sites,” the report said.

Bianco categorized the Anza Valley area as overrun with illegal grows during interviews citing public safety as a chief concern.

“With (illegal grow facilities) comes cartels and gangs and grows that are protecting themselves from thieves and with that comes guns and gunfights and shootings and robberies and everything that comes along with it,” he said. “One of the locations we were going to hit this morning we had to be at last night for a murder on the property. This isn’t a victimless crime.”

It appeared that Bianco was referring to a man suffering from a gunshot wound who was dropped off at the Riverside County Fire Department station in Anza where he was pronounced dead Tuesday, June 4.

Two men were arrested in connection with the shooting death of the victim, whose name has not yet been released by the Riverside County coroner’s office. Investigators determined the shooting occurred at a property in the area of Tripp Flats Road and Bautista Canyon in Anza.

Sheriff’s deputies load cannabis plants into a dump truck during the cannabis enforcement activity for removal to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Command Center at Hamilton High School. JC Playford photo

When asked how effective enforcement efforts are in dissuading marijuana growers from setting up shop in the Anza Valley, the bureau acknowledged that the remoteness of the area will always be an attractive location for growers, so the effort to eradicate them consistently will be ongoing.

“Focused enforcement always is an effective deterrent, but we have to commit to the continual efforts to do so,” the department said. “Sheriff Bianco has taken on that task. So, our future efforts will build upon this foundation and we will continue to ensure the more remote communities within our county remain safe.”

Bianco and the department were quick to ensure the public that the operation was not an attack on the medical marijuana suppliers and that many permitted and licensed growers remain in the area.

“There are numerous businesses throughout Riverside County that have obtained permits and operate legal marijuana cultivation sites,” the Sheriff’s Department report said. “These businesses properly dispose of waste products and follow the legal process. Illegal marijuana cultivation is harmful to the environment and community.”

“This is a quality of life issue that is destroying this valley,” Bianco said. “The bottom line is it’s illegal.”

Valley News’ Kim Harris and Jeff Pack and Anza Valley Outlook’s Diane Sieker all contributed to this report.

Valley News staff can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.