July 27, 2005 An early morning sweep of leased farmland on St. Thomas' west end netted over 8,000 marijuana plants Tuesday. Six men were arrested in connection with the raid, charged with cultivating the illegal herb.
The action was taken as part of Operation Green Thumb, a joint effort by Agriculture and law enforcement, targeting suspected marijuana growers in an area that has long been cultivated for food crops. Officials of both the Agriculture Department and the VI Bureau of Drug Enforcement — formerly the Narcotics Strike Force — say the people who were arrested in the Tuesday morning raid had been subject to similar actions in the past and at that time were also found to be growing pot on leased government land.
This time, those officials say, the farmers face eviction as well as prosecution.
A press conference was held Tuesday afternoon in Sub Base, at the headquarters of the drug bureau, to announce the arrests and detail the actions taken. Among those facing criminal charges, John Alophonso Ludvig, Cleva Lavelle Petersen, Sylvester Hamilton, Macklinsky Connor, Roacher Paget, and Royston Taylor. According to Carl Charleswell, supervisor of drug enforcement, the men were taken during an early morning surprise inspection of their fields.
Enforcement agents of the drug enforcement bureau, the Special Operations Bureau of the VI Police Department, the National Guard, Planning and Natural Resources, the Department of Health Division of Environmental Health, Human Services and the Water and Power Authority participated in the operation.
In addition to the six arrests, five children, ages two to 12 were taken into protective custody by Human Services. Officials said they were found in an area where they did not belong, in unsanitary conditions. Because of their age authorities did not identify them but did say one of the men arrested was a parent.
By the time the operation was over, officials say more than 8,000 pot plants
— ranging from seedlings to mature plants topping 10 feet tall — were hauled away in four trucks. Officials claimed the estimated street value of the unharvested plants could be as much as $8 million.
"They were farming agricultural products, fruits and provisions and stuff like that," Jay Watson drug bureau special agent, who also took part in the raid, said. "During the operation there were several marijuana plants — hundreds at a time — located in a lot of these parcels."
The parcels where the illegal crops were seized are a small percentage of the leased farmland overseen by the Agriculture Department. Elevette Elliott, assistant commissioner, was also on hand for the raid and spoke later at the press conference.
"The department was involved in the operation as well, being the custodian of the land. We promote planting but we do not promote planting of illegal substances. We are happy that the other departments were able to join so that we could enforce the VI Code," he said.
Elvin Fahie Sr., deputy police chief said he was pleased to lend support for Operation Green Thumb through the VIPD Special Operations Bureau. Meredith Neilsen, the head of the drug enforcement bureau and special advisor to the governor on drug enforcement policy, said he was glad to have the kind of cooperation from the other agencies that made this law enforcement initiative a success.
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