Pot Farm Plan Goes Up In Smoke
A routine highway department inspection led to the discovery of a massive marijuana growing operation in Commack, law enforcement officials announced last week.
Suffolk County officials confiscated approximately 150 7- to 10-foot marijuana plants from the Commack water recharge basin nestled off of Vanderbilt Motor Parkway near Red Leaf Lane.
After highway workers in May noticed several sprouting pot plants scattered throughout basin, well hidden from the public eye, Smithtown public safety officials launched a surveillance sting operation dubbed “Operation Green Thumb” that led to the Sept. 11 arrest of Mark Kern, 54, of Kings Park.
Police are still looking for a second man, who officials said escaped from the scene last Wednesday night when Kern was arrested.
According to Smithtown Deputy Chief of Public Safety Kevin McPadden, the task force, comprised of Suffolk County detectives and park rangers from the town’s department of public safety, was formed back in May to track down the alleged pot farmers.
McPadden said law enforcement officials installed several surveillance cameras to try and identify the individuals who were tending to the plants. Officers even wore camouflage during stakeouts to enhance their chances of catching the alleged suspects, McPadden said.
“Lucky for us it was just a couple of days until…two persons came in carrying jugs of fertilizer water,” McPadden said.
Kern was arrested shortly after 10 p.m. Sept. 11 at the scene while his accomplice escaped through a small hole in the barbed wire fence that surrounds the basin property, the deputy said.
Based on the size and scope of the operation, McPadden said, it appeared that the supply was “not just for personal consumption.”
“It’s obvious to anybody whose seen it… It was certainly beyond the scope of somebody growing a few [plants] for personal consumption,” McPadden said.
McPadden, a retired detective sergeant for Nassau County Police and former senior investigator for public safety, said since assuming his post in Smithtown, he hasn’t seen a case like this one.
“It would be the perfect choice for somebody to go in and plant like this, because of its isolation. It’s secluded and overgrown and fenced off, and there’s no access to the property,” McPadden said.
The Kings Park man, McPadden said, refused to give up the identity of his accomplice following his arrest. Kern was arraigned in First District Court in Central Islip on Sept. 12 and was charged with criminal possession of marijuana in the third degree, a felony, as well as criminal trespassing in the third degree and for resisting arrest.
The charges, McPadden said, could be upgraded once police determine the exact weight of the pot plants. The drugs were transported to a Suffolk County police holding facility in Yaphank, where they were left to dry out and weigh. The drying process will allow police to determine the exact street value of the product, which could result in upgraded charges.
Kern pled not guilty in court last Thursday, when he was released after posting $5,000 cash or $15,000 bail bond.
Public safety officials, McPadden said, are canvassing similar town-owned water basins to check for other growing operations.
Kern is slated to appear in First District court Oct. 2.