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Downtown LA loft busted for huge pot-growing operation

February 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Police busted a massive marijuana growing operation at a downtown Los Angeles loft. They arrested suspects and seized hundreds of pounds of pot, but those living in the building are now homeless.

As a professional photographer on a tight budget, James McClure thought he had found the perfect live-work solution in an affordable loft in the huge red brick warehouse.

"It was perfect for my studio," he said.

It was working well, until his building was raided by the Los Angeles police on Thursday.

"All of a sudden, they raid the entire building, shut it all down, not allow us in, it's pretty crazy," McClure said.

Like many of the tenants of the building on the southeastern edge of downtown, McClure had no idea that the top floor of the three-story structure was home to what police say was an enormous marijuana-growing operation.

"Even people that I had over, we couldn't smell anything," he said.

Irrigation systems and heat lamps are all that's left of the operation that police say produced $7 million worth of marijuana every 60 days. Police seized 1,500 pounds of marijuana plants, two assault rifles and two shotguns.

And like so many other times in the past, authorities say they became aware of the situation because of electricity usage. According to David Lara with the Department of Building and Safety, the operation was running up costs of $17,000 a month in utilities.

"The electricity that was generated through the electrical system was so intense that it literally melted the wires," Lara said.

City inspectors say the problems didn't stop with the marijuana.

"Our inspectors witnessed numerous violations of building codes," said Lara.

City inspectors say the electricity has been shut off because the building is a fire hazard. That left many of the residents scrambling for a place to live, including Lydia Perez, a mother of five who was homeless before moving into the small loft.

"It's very stressful, and it's very hard because there's limited resources," she said.

The future of the building is unclear. Phone calls by Eyewitness News to the owner were not returned. As for the criminal investigation, the LAPD says four people were arrested, and more arrests are expected.


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