The largest marijuana grow operation police have uncovered in Vanderhoof's history began with the pullover of a pickup truck hauling a large amount of diesel, Prince George provincial court judge Michael Brecknell was told Wednesday.
The truck was pulling a trailer carrying 2,700 litres of fuel when police and commercial vehicle enforcement officers pulled it over on June 3, 2010 on Highway 16 East at Jutland Road to check its registration.
Police noticed the smell of marijuana and arrested the two men in the vehicle. A search of one of the men's wallets uncovered a piece of paper with an address on it - 18876 Westwood Road, near Vanderhoof - and the two were released without charges.
But the North District RCMP's drug section followed the vehicle and eventually tracked it to the address and a subsequent title search found the 160 acre property was purchased for $308,700 in 2009 by V&M Farms Ltd. in turn owned by Hi Yan Ma of Vancouver.
Investigators followed up with aerial and conventional surveillance over the following months and found the property was not being used as a farm - there were no signs of livestock or farm machinery - but there was a log home and two other structures made out of plywood and sheet metal.
And when police executed a search warrant on Jan. 25, 2011, they discovered 2,629 plants estimated at $984,000 in pound form, rising to as much as $4.5 million in gram form, spread over three rooms in the building.
They also determined the site was capable of yielding three crops per year and had the capacity to produce an additional 1,500 plants.
The diesel was being used to power a generator, estimated to cost $100,000 that, in turn, provided electricity to more than 135 thousand-watt high intensity lights and to fans that simulated wind to help strengthen the stems.
The sequence of events was outlined in an agreed statement of facts read out during a sentencing hearing for Gua Hua Ma, 32, and Chun Jie Kuang, 33, two of three men found in the grow op and arrested at the scene.
In March, Kam Hub Lam, 54, was sentenced to three years in jail after it was found that he was serving a 15-month conditional sentence - effectively house arrest with a curfew - for a similar offence committed in March 2009.
Crown prosecution is seeking jail terms of 18 months to two years less a day for Ma and Kuang, stressing the operation's size and the investment that was made. It was also noted that beginning in November, anyone found guilty of operating a grow op containing more 500 plants or more will be subject to a minimum three years in jail.
Ma and Huang's defence lawyers are arguing the two should receive conditional sentences, noting neither have criminal records and painted pictures to two men in desperate situations at the time.
Lam's sentence is under appeal and he could end up serving the rest of his term as a conditional sentence, which would influence the outcomes for Ma and Huang, it was also noted.
Ma was born in China but is now a Canadian citizen who did not appear to be related to the property's owner, the court was told. He had lost his job as a truck driver and had been on the site for 10 days working as a gardener when police conducted the raid.
Huang is a landed immigrant who was at the location for three months, starting as a cook but eventually helping out with the plants. He had been promised $2,800 per month in salary but was never paid, the court heard, and agreed to work in the grow op in the hope he would eventually be paid.
Speaking through an interpreter translating Cantonese to English, at the end of nearly a day of submissions, the two told Brecknell they know they committed serious crimes and asked for a second chance.
The two pleaded guilty to production of a controlled substance in exchange for so-called provincial time, which is limited to two years less a day. Anything more would affect Huang's status in Canada, the court was told.
Brecknell, who noted V&M Farms Ltd. will likely be subject to civil forfeiture proceedings, reserved decision on sentencing to a later date not yet determined.