BUTLER COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Are big time Mexican Drug Cartels and marijuana growers targeting the Heartland? Law enforcement officers in Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, and Tennessee say it's possible.
On the heels of a number of big busts in the southern Midwest, they believe Mexican Cartels will target areas like ours because we have so much wilderness area and other isolated places where grow operations could go un-noticed.
Authorities in all our states agree the record bust of 362,000 plants valued at $400 million in Obion County, Tenn. two weeks ago was an eye opener. In that case, the sheriff says they are not ruling anything out, including that the growers could be tied to a Mexican Cartel.
"We've never seen anything like it," Sheriff Jerry Vastbinder said of the operation.
Investigators say the rugged terrain of Western Tennessee was a major factor in hiding the operation long enough to grow the high quality weed it produced.
"Cartels will look for isolated places all over the country," said Kevin Glaser of the SEMO Drug task force. "It's something law enforcement need to be on the lookout for."
In the past week, authorities confiscated a record five tons of marijuana in Indiana, and in Louisville authorities arrested five men they believed to be selling weed all over Kentucky. Authorities say both cases had ties to big Cartels.
Investigators like Glaser say these could be signs Cartels are switching gears and working more in the U.S. to cut risk and cost. Some drug experts also believe they are moving from well known locations like California to rural areas where they hope to fly under the radar – areas just like the Heartland.
"It's very concerning that Mexican Cartels could get involved in local grows but it doesn't surprise me," said Butler County Sheriff, Mark Dobbs. "It would remove the element of danger for transport."
In Butler County, Sheriff Dobbs deals with removing pot from miles of open county, to indoor grows. He says they work to prevent big operations.
"Every year we do major eradication efforts where we send officers out on overtime projects on four-wheelers and mules to see if we can find those grows," said Sheriff Dobbs. He says the community also has to stay aware and keep officers informed.
Glaser agrees, saying if an operation is busted, the growers likely have already made some money, and will just look for a new location.
"This is their bread and butter," said Glaser. "They're not going to stop doing it."
Investigators say it's important to take these drugs off the streets because they are often the root of other crime and violence we see in our communities' everyday.
Police say if you stumble upon any kind of grow, don't investigate it yourself. Many operations are under surveillance and can be very dangerous. Contact authorities immediately.