SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade Police have raided and shut down an underground hydroponics laboratory that was so hazardous that detectives say it could have triggered an underground explosion in a Southwest Miami-Dade neighborhood.
Three people including the homeowner have been arrested on charges including trafficking in marijuana at the home on Southwest 301st Street near the Florida Turnpike.
“This is terrible,” said neighbor Nico Meseses. “This was right next to my door.”
His wife Aurea Meseses told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “It’s terrible because kids live around here.”
“It’s scary,” said neighbor Teresa Gomez. “I am freaked out.”
“It makes us not want to live here anymore,” said another neighbor Nicole Danford. “It makes us feel unstable and unsafe.”
Police also released dramatic video from their narcotics bureau showing how the lab had an open hatch leading to an underground crawl space and 82 marijuana plants worth $144,000.
The plants were sitting on the base of what used to be a pool. The underground laboratory at 30121 S.W. 147th Ave. was covered by a concrete slab in the back yard of the home.
The videotape showed a hazardous situation, with chemicals, extension cords, improperly-rigged electrical cables and air conditioning units.
“None of this was done by professionals,” said Miami-Dade Police detective Alvaro Zabaleta. “None of this was done to code.”
“Not only were they conducting illegal activity by cultivating marijuana, at the same time you are dealing with electrical cables not run properly and not regulated and chemicals there with air conditioning units. And because of that fact there was the risk of an explosion underground because of fumes and so forth,” said Zabaleta.”
“So you can just imagine what could have happened,” said Zabaleta.
“It’s a lucrative business,” he said. “Criminals will do anything they can to make a quick buck and at the same time they are not thinking about putting the rest of the community in danger. There were children next door.”
Police say they discovered the lab after making a traffic stop outside the home just before 11 p.m. on January 23rd. A police report says 37-year-old Valexy Quintero-Consuegra, who lived near the home, was stopped for a citation for not wearing a seat belt.
Police say as the officer approached the car, there was a strong odor of marijuana. The officer discovered multiple plastic bags in the car.
Police then approached the home and they say they obtained written consent from the homeowner for a search. Once inside, they say they noticed a strong odor of marijuana from one of the rooms.
Once inside, they say they observed an open hatch that lead to an underground crawl space that took them to the hydroponics lab.
An arrest affidavit said that police had audio recordings in which Quintero-Consuegra and 27-year-old Marley Torres-Denis of Hialeah admitted that they had knowledge of the marijuana. And the report said they conspired to tell a story to conceal the involvement of the homeowner: 44-year-old Eddy Pelaez-Ramirez.
Bond for Quintero-Consuegra, Torres-Denis and Pelaez-Ramirez was set at $25,000. Records show Quintero-Consuegra and Torres-Denis have posted bond. Pelaez-Ramirez, who was given an Assistant Public defender to help him, was still in custody.
Pelaez-Ramirez was charged with trafficking in marijuana, conspiracy to traffic in marijuana, possession of a place for the manufacture of marijuana and grand theft.
Detective Zabaleta urges everyone to be on the lookout for suspicious activity at homes and call police if they suspect that a home is being used for a hyrdoponic lab.
“If you see a lot of activity, with cars going in and out all the time in 10 to 15 minute intervals and if it seems the home is being used improperly and the windows are covered, that should should raise suspicions,” said Zabaleta.
“Another signal is the use of excessive air conditioning units at a house,” he said. “We need the community’s help. We are asking the community to help us fight crime.”
Zabaleta said the lab may have been in operation for at least a few years. While the plants were worth $144,000, their value might have doubled once they matured, he said.
Neighbors say they had not seen suspicious activity at the home.
“That was amazing,” said neighbor Thomas Schultz. “I didn’t see anything coming out of that house. It was all quiet.”
“No I never saw anything, ever,” said neighbor Liz Batson. “No, not there at that house. I could tell you about a few others, but not that one.”