A firefighter told police about oddities at a White Bear Lake house. Authorities found 1,000 marijuana plants inside believed to be worth a couple million dollars.
A firefighter checking out a call to a White Bear Lake house last month found no flames, but plenty else to arouse suspicion.
There was the heat escaping from the eaves of the house, and frost on the inside of the windows, White Bear Lake Police Chief Lynne Tellers Bankes said Monday.
The homeowner arrived and said he would make sure all was well, Bankes said. But the firefighter described the curious signs to a police investigator, she said, and on Monday, about two weeks later, authorities busted a marijuana-growing operation in the house's basement and seized pot believed to be worth at least a couple of million dollars.
Ramsey County Undersheriff George Altendorfer said the enterprise was one of the largest pot-growing operations in the county's history.
A 27-year-old homeowner was taken into custody.
His toddler son, who was with him Monday, was turned over to child-protection authorities, Bankes said.
Discovery of the marijuana greenhouse follows similar busts in recent years in such Twin Cities area communities as Blaine, Forest Lake, Bloomington and Apple Valley. As in many of those cases, the White Bear Lake grower took advantage of a spacious basement and the peacefulness of his new suburban neighborhood.
The only apparent inhabitants of the house in the 3400 block of Michael Avenue, north of the Maplewood Mall, were more than 1,000 plants growing under about 40 umbrella-shaped metal lamp shades. According to Ramsey County property-tax records, the suspect and another person bought the 6-year-old house last Nov. 9 for $367,000.
It is not believed, however, Bankes said, that the suspect, who has yet to be charged, actually lived in the house. Inside was a television and a sofa in the living room, a bed in one of the bedrooms -- "and that was it for the furniture," the chief said.
Bankes said the suspect bored a hole through a concrete wall on the south side of the house to tap into the electrical feed before it hit the meter of the house.
Because of the sophistication and the size of the operation, Altendorfer said the sheriff's office planned to pursue federal charges.
"The individuals involved here certainly knew what they were doing," he said.
According to police, an anonymous caller notified authorities about 4 p.m. Jan. 26 of a possible fire at the residence. There were streaks on the exterior walls, police said, suggesting extreme heat and condensation inside.
Bankes said that the homeowner, who arrived after emergency crews that day, "did not want police or fire assistance ... and we left the scene."
But the East Metro Narcotics Task Force, drawing on information provided by the firefighter and police investigator, began looking deeper into the case, and searched the house Monday, Bankes said. Investigators encountered 90-degree temperatures when they entered, and mold that Altendorfer said has made the house uninhabitable.
Altendorfer said the sophistication of the operation suggested that the marijuana would be of high-grade quality. The plants were in varying stages of growth, he added, with the largest being about 4 and a half feet high.
While the investigation continues, evidence also was uncovered Monday suggesting that whoever was growing the pot knew that this enterprise was part of a suburban trend.
In a kitchen cabinet was the front section of the Jan. 6, 2008 edition of the Star Tribune. The main headline read: "Do you live next door to a pot palace?"
The potential for public attention, Altendorfer said, "was on their radar screen."
Anthony Lonetree • 651-298-1545