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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 10:15 am | Fair 60º


Pot Farm Investigation Stalls after 2 Suspects Cleared of All Charges

DA says pair of hunters was not involved as sheriff's deputies continue search for four men linked to remote marijuana garden

[Editor’s note: The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigation is ongoing. An earlier version of this article may have left the impression that was not the case. The story has been clarified below.]

Two hunters accused last month of growing an estimated 13,300 marijuana plants have been cleared of all charges, but the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigation is ongoing.

The District Attorney’s Office in Santa Maria cited a lack of sufficient evidence as the reason for setting the two men free.

Javier Barragan, 40, of Maywood, and his brother-in-law, Jose Lopez, 38, of Paramount, originally were taken into custody April 17 after two campers identified them as having chased them down a mountain in a pickup truck. The campers had stumbled upon a large marijuana operation tended by two other men in a remote area of Los Padres National Forest, near Aliso Park west of New Cuyama. The campers were trying to leave the area when they were confronted by two men in a pickup truck who tried to flag them down. A police search of Barragan and Lopez’s vehicle revealed five high-powered rifles with scopes and numerous rounds of ammunition. The two men insisted they were on a hunting trip when they were pulled over.

“(We) want to express our thanks to the Santa Maria District Attorney’s Office and Deputy District Attorney Megan Baldwin for her diligent work and quick action to end this horrible nightmare,” Barragan and Lopez wrote on their Web site, Mexihunters.com.

The whereabouts of the two men originally believed to be tending the garden are unknown, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Drew Sugars told Noozhawk on Wednesday.

“If we knew (their whereabouts), we’d have them,” he said.

Deputies destroyed the marijuana plants, which had an estimated value of $26 million.

Suspicious activity in the backcountry should be reported to the Sheriff’s Department or to the U.S. Forrest Service, officials said.

Noozhawk intern Kenny Lindberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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