Two Mexican nationals were arrested Tuesday by a federal drug enforcement team that was investigating a marijuana growing operation in Columbia County.
The suspects identified themselves as Ramon Estrada-Gonzalez, 61, and Gerardo Aguirre-Hernandez, 41.
According to a report filed by a member of the Cannabis Eradication Team, on Tuesday morning team members were responding to a tip about a possible marijuana growing operation near the end of Cougar Canyon Road in eastern Columbia County. The team discovered the growing operation, including a water line for irrigation. Officers also found a camp, where the suspects were discovered and apprehended without incident. A rifle was also found in the camp.
After being read their rights in Spanish, the suspects agreed to answer questions, the report said. The men told officers they had been at the site for about three months, and that food was dropped off for them every Tuesday. The men claimed they had been given the gun to protect themselves from bears, the report said.
According to the report, the suspects said they were in California when they were offered a job in Washington at an orchard.
However, after being brought to Washington, they were told they would be growing marijuana rather than working at an orchard.
The suspects told officers they were growing approximately 1,000 marijuana plants and were being paid $100 per day. Both admitted they had not legally immigrated to the U.S.
Estrada-Gonzalez and Aguirre-Hernandez were booked into Columbia County Jail on Tuesday. Columbia County Prosecutor Rea Culwell filed charges against each man of manufacture of a controlled substance and alien in possession of a firearm.
On Wednesday, both suspects were arraigned in Superior Court, with bond set at $200,000 each. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 2 p.m.
Ken Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-2752.