A crackdown on meth, tighter border controls, no-money-down mortgages and the lure of large profits are behind the rise of indoor pot farms in the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere, according to authorities. Since March, police have raided almost two dozen homes and businesses converted to large-scale marijuana farming operations. Officials believe many of the farms, which employ an assembly line-style operation and can generate up to six harvests a year, are funded by entrepreneurial gangsters looking for easy money during hard times. “My spin on it is Asian \ and Caucasian biker gangs have developed a form of marijuana that is double the potency of Mexican marijuana,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Werner. “The more expensive the product, the more money they can get out of it.” Narcotics officers from Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties as well as agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and detectives from the Pomona and Azusa Police Departments participated in the seizures. In all, the 23 houses and one business accounted for a street value of more than $50 million worth of pot. As with any good business model, pot growers need an outlet. Economic forces create a market. Crackdowns on methamphetamine labs provide a knowledgable work force; easy-to-obtain mortgages furnish the land; medical marijuana dispensaries and a re-emergence of the ’60s pot culture supplies the customers, said Gerald Caiden, a USC professor of economics and political science who specializes in political corruption and organized crime. Beyond that, “It’s not too difficult to come up with a little capital and use a little entrepreneurship,” said Lt. James Whitten of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The history of one house, at 1512 Eldertree Drive in Diamond Bar, that was raided on March 21 is typical of the grow homes, Whitten said. The house sold for $823,000 in January, according to records from the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office. The buyer, who has not been identified by authorities, apparently put together a purchase loan with little money down and made no payments for insurance or taxes. Inside the home, detectives found marijuana valued at $12.5million and an elaborate system of lighting and irrigation rigged to bypass municipal utility service. The unidentified buyer also owns a home at 7715 Emerson Place in Rosemead that deputies raided two days later and seized less than $1 million worth of drugs, Whitten said. A similar setup was employed there, officials said. Again, the home was purchased with very little money down and retained little or no equity. “We think the facts resemble a series of cases in Northern California,” Werner said, “where grow homes were bought with 100 percent financing.” The typical arrangement consists of the buyer obtaining a mortgage for 80 percent of the purchase price and then a silent second for the remaining 20 percent, Werner said. Kiet Chung, 40, of San Francisco was arrested in the Eldertree Drive house and charged with cultivation of marijuana for sale. He is being held at the Pitchess Detention Center without bail. The unidentified homeowner has been in contact with detectives through an attorney, Werner said. Although many of the houses display similar links and purchase patterns, detectives have been unable to nail down any threads tying them all together. While Asian gangs, known as drug trafficking organizations or DTOs, seem to control much of the San Gabriel Valley trade, Werner said biker gangs and other criminal organizations are also involved. A recent series of six busts in Palmdale involved African- American suspected gang members. Four were taken into custody and 690 plants were seized, Werner said. The varying ethnicity of suspects all the more proves the profitability of such ventures, Caiden said. “This is a terrific business and marijuana is a great cash crop,” Caiden said “The profits are enormous. If it wasn’t so profitable, it wouldn’t be worth the risk.” Links to the San Gabriel Valley crop up in many other busts. Last Monday, San Bernardino County deputies uncovered a grow home in Yucaipa. They arrested Huaiwen Zhu, 24, of Rosemead and Minghua Liang, 29, of Rowland Heights. A check of public records indicates Liang is connected to the now defunct Ever-Union Trading & Investment Inc. The company, which authorities claim swindled investors in Taiwan, was busted in October by Taiwanese officials and detectives from the Sheriff’s Fraud Bureau. Liang had been missing ever since, authorities said. Police said the men arrested in many of these cases refuse to talk. Most of the homeowners they interview claim to have little knowledge of the activity. “Several of the owners are elderly, in their 60s or 70s,” Werner said. “Who knows? They may be straw buyers. In a couple of cases, \ said they had posted \ at a laundry. Somebody moved in and they get cash every month. Each case is different.” Similar to meth labs, grow homes present a variety of poisonous perils from the merely mild to considerably lethal. “These houses become toxic waste dumps,” Werner said. “Mold permeates the walls. … They dump gallons of liquid fertilizer. It’s a horrible health hazard to the community regardless of how you stand on marijuana.” There is also a criminal element the farms seem to attract. An indoor farm in Azusa began to draw the attention of authorities because of the people it attracted. “I noticed different people, weirdo-druggies walking down the alleyway,” said Sherri Wells of Glendora, who works in a bakery supply company in the same complex. “After the fact though I realized how crazy it is that you don’t notice something like that until after it happens.” Authorities said some of the product might find its way to medical marijuana dispensaries, like one busted by authorities in West Covina on Monday. “They have to get their product somewhere,” Whitten said. “It would be a good venue for them to sell. Right now though we have no actual information leading us to any one of those places.” If dispensaries are the ultimate destination for the tons of marijuana produced at area grow homes, police might be overstepping their bounds, according to Bruce Margolin, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Margolin said the law protects pot grown for purely medicinal purposes. “But, the law is only as good as those who interpret it,” Margolin said. “Sometimes you have rogue cops. They want to go out and kick in the door and seize the product. Very few, if any, \ have been prosecuted.” But grow farm operators are choosing houses in the outlying suburbs because it suits their immediate needs. “Working out of a house cuts down the risks,” Caiden said. “When you cut down the transportation costs and any exposure to antiterrorist measures, you increase profits.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2717 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!