EL MONTE — A report of a break-in led El Monte police to discover the largest marijuana-growing operation ever found in the city, authorities said.
About 3,000 pot plants, valued at about $1 million, were found growing inside a commercial building at 2520 Continental Avenue, El Monte police Detective Ralph Batres said.
“It’s the biggest marijuana grow in the history of El Monte,” the detective said.
A witness called 9-1-1 early Saturday to report seeing five men trying to force their way into the building, Batres said.
The men, who were wearing gloves, had backed a U-Haul truck into the parking lot of the building, he said.
Arriving sheriff’s deputies and police officers found the five burglary suspects, who were carrying gardening shears, Batres said. One of the suspects indicated there was a marijuana grow inside the building.
Benjamin Kwok, 37, of San Gabriel; Louie Frank Fraijo, 28, of Baldwin Park; Raymond Guan, 29, of Rosemead; Xing Xi He, 24, of Baldwin Park; and a 17-year-old San Gabriel boy were booked on suspicion of burglary, El Monte police Lt. Richard Cano said.
Police obtained a search warrant to enter the building where they discovered a massive, elaborate and sophisticated pot-growing operation.
Seven large rooms inside the structure housed between 300 and 600 mature marijuana plants each, complete with complex electrical, ventilation, filter and hydroponic equipment. Windows had been covered over with drywall making it impossible to look into the building from the outside.
Batres said it appeared the burglars specifically targeted the marijuana in the attempted break-in.
No arrests were made in connection with the marijuana grow, Batres said, and investigators were working to determine who is responsible for the building.
“Now the paper trail starts,” he said.
Nearby neighbors said they were shocked to learn the nearby building housed a massive marijuana farm.
“It was just like a normal business,” said Andy Valle. Trucks would come and go, and people would sometimes be seen loitering in the parking lot as if on breaks from work.
Though Valle said he noticed the business didn’t seem to take care of it’s landscaping and driveway as well as other nearby companies, he saw nothing to indicate anything suspicious going on inside.
Batres credited the witness who originally reported the break-in for the massive bust.
“The residents are our eyes and ears,” he said. “Someone called it in, and we got lucky on this one.”
PHOTO by Staff Photographer Eric Reed