|Jopson Ranch||1200 Pleasant Grove Road, Rio Oso CA 95674|
Most Viewed Stories
Pot bust uproots 'the good life' for Sutter County farmers
Two well-known Sutter County farmers were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of violating federal law by converting their hydroponic tomato business into a large-scale marijuana farm, authorities said.
Thomas Wesley Jopson, 62, and his brother David Eldon Jopson, 60, were arrested at their home and farm on suspicion of conspiracy to manufacture at least 1,000 marijuana plants, a federal crime that carries a minimum 10 years to life prison sentence, said Mike Hudson, commander of the Yuba-Sutter Narcotic and Gang Enforcement Team.
In all, 12 people were arrested as part of Operation Facade, including a prominent activist in Oakland's marijuana growing industry, Yan Ebyam, who was arrested at Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist in Sacramento.
Fourth-generation farmers, the Jopsons converted their greenhouses into a marijuana growing operation in late 2010, Hudson said. By their own admission, they planned to harvest six crops a year, with each crop yielding $4 million, and expected to make enough money the first year to retire, sell their family farm and "lead the good life," Hudson said.
"I don't understand the mentality of someone to jeopardize a farm that's been in your family for generations, and to jeopardize your own freedom by doing this," Hudson said. "It's also concerning to me that a farm in our area would participate in something like this."
Agents seized 2,168 plants at the Jopsons' ranch in the 1200 block of Pleasant Grove Road and 3,305 plants at Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist, a poinsettia business where only a few flowers were on site Tuesday.
Also arrested in conjunction with the raid were Aimee Kristine Sisco, 30, and Jesus Bruce, 35, of Los Molinos; Pablo Omar Vasquez, 31, Dolf Fred Podva, 35, Thomas Marrs, 38, Donald Fried, 37, and three other garden tenders.
When agents arrived at the Jopsons' ranch on Tuesday, there was not a tomato to be found.
An old refrigerated Foster Farms semi-trailer served as the cloning site, with tiny sprouts in plastic cups reaching toward florescent lights, and bright leafy plants in various stages of growth forming neat rows in each greenhouse.
At one point there were more than 7,000 plants at the ranch, Hudson said, but there was a falling-out between the Jopsons and Ebyam — the leader of the operation — over the most effective way to grow marijuana. Ebyam moved thousands of plants to Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist, and the Jopsons continued growing the plants he left behind, Hudson said.
The Sutter County property is dotted with rusty pickups, aging cargo containers and ramshackle barns and structures.
A few piles of fertilizer sit outside the rows of greenhouses, which emitted the recognizable scent of fresh marijuana.
Agents walked in and out of the greenhouse doors, which were each clearly marked with "Do Not Enter" signs and hauled uprooted marijuana plants into a waiting trailer for destruction.
"This should be sending a loud and clear message to people in the Yuba-Sutter area," Hudson said. "You cannot blatantly operate outside the parameters of (Proposition) 215."
It was a Sutter County deputy who first noticed something out of the norm at the ranch, said Sheriff J. Paul Parker.
The greenhouses would glow at night with grow lights, a practice that would not be cost-effective for tomatoes.
Further investigation revealed the true scope of the marijuana growing operation, which claimed to operate as a cooperative under the Compassionate Use Act.
But operations blatantly did not abide by the state standards of Proposition 215, Hudson said. Two major elements of being a cooperative are being nonprofit and having members, neither of which pertained to the Jopson operation.
"I don't care if you are the world's greatest advocate," he said. "This is so outside of the real intent, no one can justify this."
In addition to the seized evidence, investigators are identifying numerous bank accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds, with potential to reach more than $1 million. Forfeiture proceedings are being considered on the Jopson farm and Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist.
The Jopson Ranch is in escrow, after being on the market since Sept. 22, according to listing agent Pearson Realty. The listing price is $4.35 million.
The Jopson Family Garden has been making news since the late 1990s for its hydroponic tomatoes.
The January-February 2010 issue California Country magazine, a publication produced by the California Farm Bureau Federation, noted that fourth-generation farmers Tom and David Jopson switched from growing rice and raising cattle to hydroponic tomatoes about 20 years ago.
They grew and sold tomatoes for $4 a pound from October through July in grocery stores and at a farmers' market in Sacramento. An article in Growing Produce in 2008 notes that the switch to tomatoes was also because the Jopsons did not want to be dependent on government subsidies any longer.
David Jopson is a former East Nicolaus High School trustee and former member of the Sutter County Parks and Recreation Commission.
All 12 arrested were booked into Sacramento County Jail.
A convicted felon, Ebyam has served 21⁄2 years in federal prison for conspiracy to launder several million dollars generated from sales of stolen Cisco and Sun Microsystems computer equipment.
He made national news in recent years when his East Oakland growing venture became the first one in the nation to be unionized and was slated for a business permit through the city until Oakland put the plans on hold because of federal legal conflicts.
The New York Times reported in May that Ebyam left Oakland in late 2010 after thefts, break-ins and other troubles at his growing facility. He had implied to the newspaper that he was still in the medical marijuana business but refused to say where, saying, "After last time, I think it's better that way."
About 100 law enforcement officers served seven federal search warrants at the Jopsons' ranch, a residence in Los Molinos in Tehama County, Cal-Nevada Wholesale Florist and a hotel room at Homestead Studio Suites in Sacramento.