Earlier this week, we posted about two illegal marijuana grows found on federal land. Ten foreign nationals were busted in separate operations.
Now, Mario Garcia and six others are in custody on charges related to an illegal grow of their own — one they allegedly built up on private land they took over and tried to hang onto via a complicated scam backed by threats and a pit bull.
Last week, the Larimer County Sheriff's Office and Larimer County Crime Stoppers declared Garcia to be a wanted fugitive.
On their respective Facebook pages, they posted the following mug shot....
...along with the revelation that he was the "focus of an ongoing criminal investigation...involving threats and extortion to take control of a Larimer County homeowner's property for the purpose of illegally growing marijuana." Accompanying this material was a long list of charges from a federal warrant against him:
• 18-3-207(1)(a,b)(I) Criminal Extortion , a Class 4 Felony;Within days, Garcia was rounded up, and now, the warrant, obtained by the Fort Collins Coloradoan, reveals the specifics of the case.
• 18-5-309 Money Laundering (1)(b)(I), a Class 3 Felony;
• 18-4-203 2nd Degree Burglary, a Class 3 Felony;
• 18-4-501 Criminal Mischief ($5,000-$20,000), a Class 5 Felony;
• 18-5-113 Criminal Impersonation, a Class 6 Felony;
• 18-18-406 Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute, a Class 1 Drug Felony;
• 18-18-406 Cultivation of Marijuana, a Class 3 Drug Felony;
• 18-18-407(1)(a) Special Offender; and
• 18-18-407(1)(b) Special Offender
In early September, the warrant maintains, Garcia contacted the owner of a property on the 400 block of Buffalo Range Lane in Wellington. Garcia is said to have identified himself as a West Coast-based real estate agent representing a business that farmed vegetables.
The area near the location is certainly remote, as shown by the following interactive graphic. If you have problems seeing the image, click "View on Google Maps."
The owner, who lives in California, gave Garcia the keys to the property, as well as permission to inspect the land. However, the warrant maintains that Garcia and six associations — Sergio Sanchez Sr., Sergio Sanchez Jr., Ruddie Lopez, Raciel Serrano, Ronald Sinigaglia and Hector Perez — began building the marijuana operation as if the place was theirs.
The owner told investigators that he tried to get rid of the group at that point, but Garcia threatened legal action against him, including a claim that he wouldn't rent his land because they were Hispanic.
Then, the Coloradoan reports, the owner gave permission to another real-estate agent to check out the property — and when he did, the suspects greeted him with rude and aggressive behavior, not to mention a pit bull.
Agent number two told Larimer County Sheriff's Office personnel what happened, and on September 25, deputies stopped by for a visit.
There, they found what the newspaper calculates as 245 cannabis plants and 75 pounds of finished, sale-ready marijuana.
Lopez allegedly tried to explain away the weed with a novel defense described in the warrant like so: "After Lopez was arrested, he claimed all of the marijuana on the property belonged to him under his 99 plant medical marijuana card and that he smokes and eats all of the approximately 200 pounds of marijuana currently located on the property."
Shockingly enough, law enforcers didn't buy this assertion. They took everyone other than Garcia into custody immediately — and on Monday, October 5, the LCSO announced that Garcia had been fitted with a pair of cuffs, too.
Look below to see a collage of mug shots for Garcia and the other accused men.