State Police Bust $3M Illegal Pot Growing Operation in Savoy
Troopers say they confiscated nearly 3,600 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $3 million. The grow operation was using $10,000 a month in electricity.
SAVOY, Mass. — State Police say they have busted an illegal pot operation in the small hilltown and seized more than $3 million worth of plants.
According to troopers with Cheshire barracks, an investigation into suspicious activity on Jackson Road resulted in the discovery of the growing operation and resulted in the arrest of two New York State men: Yebin Mai, 28, of Staten Island and Bin Huang, 32, of Brooklyn.
Troopers were assisted by members of the Berkshire State Police Detective Unit, the State Police Narcotics Inspection Unit and a narcotics task force and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
State Police reported that the investigation began on the night of July 29, when an Eversource crew responded to a pole outside 72 Jackson Road to address an electrical problem. Investigation by the linemen indicated that wires had been overloaded and damaged by excessive electricity use from the house, and they approached the residence to speak to the occupant. A man exited the home, later identified as Mai, and, claiming he did not speak much English and communicating mostly through gestures, refused to let the workers inspect the home's electrical hookups.
When the lineman explained that the power had to be shut off to conduct a safety check, Mai became agitated and gestured repeatedly that they could not turn off the power, according to State Police. The linemen made several attempts to explain the situation and told troopers that at one point Mai had placed an envelope with $100 bills in the pocket of the lineman's vest. The Eversource employee attempted to give the money back to Mai, who pushed the lineman's hand away. At that point the crew decided to leave the power on, leave the property, and request police presence as they felt there was a potential conflict with the resident.
Cheshire troopers responded and, while they were speaking to the Eversource crew, said a white 2019 Ford pickup with a New York registration drove down the home's driveway attempting to leave the property. Troopers stopped the vehicle to allow Eversource employees to again attempt to explain the safety hazard at the home. The driver, identified as Mai by his New York driver's license, kept repeating that he did not speak or understand English. When Trooper Glenn Lagerwall requested that he turn the truck off he immediately did so, indicating that he did understand some English. There were two other men in the truck.
An inspection of the home's four outdoor electric meters revealed that metal and wiring in and around the meters was melted from the excessive power being drawn through them. Eversource records indicated the home was using $10,000 in electricity every month. Fresh burn marks on the wood that encased the meters indicated that there had been a small fire at one point. Determining the situation unsafe, the company cut power to the home and ordered it would remain off until repairs were made and inspected by the town.
Troopers said they made the following observations outside the house:
There was a slight smell for fresh grown marijuana near the house.
While there were no visible ventilation outlets, there were the distinct sounds of multiple fans running in the residence. After the power was shut off and the fans inside had stopped running, the smell of fresh marijuana became much stronger around the residence.
All windows were covered with closed curtains and what appeared to be plywood on the interior of the windows.
The back yard was covered with debris from what appeared to be extensive renovations in the house. Mixed in with the debris were large green pots used for planting and some large florescent light fixtures.
Each entrance had a door camera tracking the entrance and exit of anyone using that doorway.
A worn path led from the back of the house into the woods. At the end of the path was a very large pile of used potting soil, all in the shape of large pots apparently from which they had been dumped. There were roots and stalks in the soil where plants had been harvested. Troopers, through training and experience, said they knew these to be discarded marijuana roots.
Upon questioning with aid of an online translation app, Mai stated he did not own the house, did not know who owned the house, and did not know why he, a New York resident, was at the house.
Upon consultation with a narcotics detective from the State Police Detective Unit for Berkshire County, troopers allowed the three occupants of the truck to leave pending further investigation. The envelope containing the money that Mai had tried to give to the lineman was returned to the suspect, according to troopers.
Utilizing online property records, Lagerwall determined that the house had been purchased on Nov. 2, 2017, by a Bin Huang for $200,000 cash.
Believing — from the observations of the property and the excessive electrical use at the address — that probable cause existed that the home was being used as a marijuana cultivation facility, and after determining it was not licensed as such, Trooper Jacob Eugin applied for, and was granted by a Berkshire County court, a search warrant for the home.
On the afternoon of Friday July 31, troopers from the barracks, the State Police Detective Unit, a State Police regional drug task force, and a DEA agent executed the search warrant and found no one inside the home. Immediately upon approaching the cellar, troopers said they detected an overwhelming odor of fresh marijuana. In the cellar they found a room full of marijuana plants organized in rows with lights above them.
Each plant was in an individual pot. In the room was a network of lights, chemicals, a sophisticated hydro system and an advanced ventilation system. The team then found five more rooms on the cellar, all with almost every square foot covered with growing marijuana plants. Also located in the cellar was a long shelf stacked with hydroponic chemicals and cultivation tools.
The team moved to the first floor and found more rooms containing marijuana plants and other rooms contained supplies needed for growing marijuana.
Troopers located, in the house, bills and mail addressed to Huang at that address.
The Massachusetts State Police Air Wing deployed to conduct an overhead area search of the building and the surrounding 14 acres of the property. Upon arrival, the helicopter conducted several passes over the area but did not find any further evidence of marijuana cultivation.
A total of 3,598 marijuana plants, with a total weight of 560 pounds, were seized from the building and secured by the State Police Narcotics Inspection Unit. The estimated street value of the seized plants is more than $3 million.
Over the next several days, troopers checked the residence repeatedly but observed no signs that the suspects had returned. But on Wednesday, troopers learned that people were inside the house. Trooper William Munch drove past the residence and confirmed that the white pickup and another vehicle were in the driveway. Troopers Anthony Martone and Joseph Pescitelli a short time later observed a white Ford F150 pickup with a New York registration pull out of Jackson Road and head south on Route 8A. Both troopers noted the driver matched the description and picture of Mai.
Based on the probable cause that Mai had been trafficking marijuana, they stopped the pickup, positively identified Mai, and placed him under arrest. The passenger was then identified as Huang, the owner of the residence. Huang was then also placed under arrest based on the same probable cause. (Huang was not one of the men in the pickup on the first day.)
Both men were transported to the Cheshire barracks for booking.
According to State Police, Huang indicated he understood his Miranda rights. Mai claimed to not understand English, even though he had previously complied with Pescitelli's orders stated in English earlier in the stop. Pescitelli called Interpreter Services Information and was able to get a translator to explain Miranda rights to Mai in Mandarin, and Mai stated that he understood his rights. A bail clerk set bail for $100,000 each for both men and set a court date for both to appear before Northern Berkshire District Court on Friday, Aug. 7.
The investigation into the whereabouts of the other two men who were in the pickup truck with Mai on the first day is ongoing. Their identities are known to the State Police.
First-Responders Searching for Lost Hiker on Mount Greylock
Update: The hiker was reportedly found about noontime Wednesday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Northern Berkshire first-responders are looking for a self-reported missing hiker on Mount Greylock State Reservation.
State Police Sgt. Michael O'Neil said a call was first received from the hiker around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
"Overnight he called 911 saying he was essentially lost," O'Neil said. "He was not expressing any issues like he was injured. He was just lost in the woods. He got turned around."
O'Neil said the hiker is a 38 and from eastern part of the state and was unprepared for an extended hike.
"I would say he is not prepared for an extended hike that is why we are out in force now," he said. "Weather is on our side. What is not is he is unprepared."
Through the three 911 calls the hiker made, they were able to "ping" his phone and believe he is on the Bellows Pipe Trail working north toward where a staging area was set up in the Notch Road parking area.
North Adams Fire, Northern Berkshire EMS, state police, Department of Conservation and Recreation personnel, and Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue had been on the scene since about 5 a.m. O'Neil said currently they are checking trails and various outlets.
At the moment it is believed that his cell phone is dead or dying and they have been unable to communicate.
"We can't read this guy's mind and we don't know. He could have gone back to where he started off," O'Neil said. "We are just checking the general area and all of the typical places where people pop out."
O’Neil said a K-9 has recently been deployed toward Bellows Pipe Trail and a helicopter has been dispatched.
"We just have the helicopter working this side of the ridge between the reservoir and the meadows," he said. "We have some issues with the canopy where the infrared can't see past. It is thick."
O'Neill asked all hikers and others using the mountain to keep an eye out for the hiker.
"If people are coming up to hike just keep on the lookout for a 38-year-old male unprepared," he said.
Pittsfield Driver Injured in Elm Street Accident
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A city man was injured Tuesday when the truck he was operating collided with a house on Elm Street.
Police say Alexander Colvin, 26, was westbound in the 240 block of Elm when he suffered a medical emergency at about 2 p.m. His 2007 Ford pickup left the road and to the right and collided with the front porch of 233 Elm St., causing extensive damage to both the home and vehicle.
Colvin was transported to Berkshire Medical Center with what is believed to be non-life threatening injuries.
There were no other persons involved. Elm between Holmes Road and Ontario Street was closed to traffic for approximately two hours for the investigation and clean up.
Anyone with additional information about this crash is asked to contact Officer Gallagher of the Traffic Unit at 413-448-9700, Ext. 549.
North Adams Police Investigate Possible Shooting Incident
Update: Police Chief Jason Wood gave us this statement:
"Last night's incident cannot be confirmed as a 'shots fired' call at this time. North Adams officers and detectives did not locate any evidence of a weapon being discharged in the area. Also, there were no discharged cartridges or bullet holes to be found.
The North Adams Police Department will continue to investigate this incident until the investigation reaches a endpoint."
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police on Saturday night were investigating whether someone had shot at a house on Liberty Street.
Neighbors in the area called 911 around 10 p.m. to report hearing several shots. Police blocked off the street at the corner of North Holden for more than an hour and were reportedly looking for a vehicle that may have been at the scene.
While officers declined to confirm a shooting, citing an active investigation, their focus appeared to be the home of Raymond Moore, a leading voice in the local Black Lives Matter movement.
Moore said he didn't hear anything and was first alerted when officers arrived and the family could see flashlights shining through their windows.
Moore emailed iBerkshires on Sunday morning and said he had heard what sounded like gunshots while upstairs. When he went downstairs, the police were already at his door.
No one was injured but Moore said he's been getting threats about the BLM protests — one is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. — and his calls for the resignation of City Councilor Robert Moulton Jr., whose comments last week about BLM being terrorist group and trivializing of COVID-19 has sparked denouncements from his colleagues on the council and School Committee. Moulton has already had to resign from his post as president of the local ambulance service because of his remarks.
The local Black Lives Matter group is planning protests of City Council meetings until Moulton steps down. The first rally is at 3 p.m. at City Hall on Tuesday. Both the School Committee and council will be meeting that day to vote on resolutions of censure against the six-term councilor.
Moore on Saturday night said threats weren't going to stop the protests.
Williamstown Police Looking into Cemetery Vandalism
Sticks that once held American flags adorning graves at East Lawn Cemetery are disposed of in a trash can at the cemetery.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Police Department is investigating a vandalism incident at East Lawn Cemetery, Lt. Michael Ziemba said on Monday evening.
Visitors to the cemetery on Saturday discovered that a couple of dozen American flags on the graves of veterans and at least one member of the town's fire district were removed and the wooden flag sticks left behind.
"We are fairly confident based on the number of flags and the short time frame (Friday night) that this is not an animal," Zimeba wrote in response to questions about the incident.
"We have no motive, and there have not been any similar incidents in other cemeteries."
Ziemba said the WPD routinely checks on the town's cemeteries at night.
The department would like to hear from anyone "who may have seen something suspicious or who has any information about this incident," Ziemba said.
According to Massachusetts General Law,
removal of "a tomb, monument, gravestone, American flag, veteran's grave marker, metal plaque, veteran's commemorative flag holder, commemorative flag holder representing service in a police or fire department, veteran's flag holder," is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
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