Two Baltimore County men have been busted on marijuana charges because of the chance discovery of a 15-plant pot garden and a 13-day stakeout by forest rangers of a mosquito-infested site in Gunpowder Falls State Park.
A search of one suspect's Essex home early yesterday turned up an assortment of firearms and a sealed room where 63 more marijuana plants were being cultivated under artificial sunlight, Baltimore County police said.
"He had the nicest library of how to cultivate plants under drought conditions," said Detective Sgt. Dennis J. O'Neill of the county's narcotics unit, describing the suspect's collection of books dealing with agriculture and gardening.
Charged with two counts each of marijuana possession were Timothy Keith Fleischmann, 30, of the 2900 block of Yorkway in Dundalk, and Francis Lee Wiles, 50, of the 6800 block of Leslie Road in Essex.
Sergeant O'Neill said the men were arrested late Friday afternoon when they arrived at the site along the Bird River in a small motorboat. One kept a lookout while the other carried tools and other materials to the pot patch and began weeding -- until forest rangers in camouflage uniforms stepped out of their hiding places to make the arrests.
Surveillance of the site -- discovered by workers in the area -- was conducted by the three members of the State Forest and Parks Service's six-month-old Substance Abuse Unit (SAU), assisted by Gunpowder Falls forest rangers.
Lt. Chris C. Bushman, who heads the SAU team, said the vigil was maintained by groups of two or three for "a pretty good part of the day," and "some days sunrise to sunset and into the dark hours a little bit." But mostly it was during daylight hours, he said, because "as thick as it was, [the marijuana growers] wouldn't be trying to maneuver at night."
Some used bug repellent to ward off the mosquitoes, Lieutenant Bushman said, noting that "there was plenty of them buzzing around. We had plenty of swatting going on. It was a pretty swampy area, pretty muddy.
"The worst thing was the tedium of it, just sitting there. For the first 12 days, nothing happened. You go in and come out, and it's a little hard to go in again. You have to keep that end product in mind and believe enough that it's gonna happen. It would be easier to just pull the plants and get out of there."
Lieutenant Bushman said the substance abuse team -- which also includes Sergeants H. W. Bennett and Susan H. Rose -- has done a lot of plant-pulling this summer, removing about $600,000 worth of marijuana plants found growing in state forests and parks -- none of which had taken root without human nurturing.
There was also another arrest after a 12-day stakeout in Patapsco State Park, where 84 pot plants were found, he said.
Lieutenant Bushman -- whose group works closely with the state police marijuana eradication program, with aerial observation support from the Maryland National Guard -- said he would rather find the people growing the weed than spend his time pulling up plants.
"One arrest for one plant is better than ripping up a bunch of plants," he said. "The [Gunpowder Falls] site was just good. I figured if we stuck it out long enough, we would catch the guy."
The stakeout "would have gone longer," he said, if the suspects had not turned up on day 13, the lieutenant said. "Persistence pays off, I guess."
Authorities seized the boat and a small amount of marijuana one of the men was carrying.
About 2:30 yesterday morning, Baltimore County police officers and state forest rangers executed search warrants at two homes -- on Leslie Road, and on Terrace Road in Essex which Mr. Fleischmann initially gave to the police as his address.
On Leslie Road, said Sergeant O'Neill, the raiding party found a room with dark plastic taped over the windows and an array of lighting equipment shining down on 63 plants in various stages of growth.
Also seized were an assortment of rifles, shotguns and pistols, and two items which appeared to be a weapon silencer and shotgun flash suppressor -- items banned by federal law. Sergeant O'Neill said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was notified of the find.
The Terrace Road address, which appeared on Mr. Fleischmann's driving license and other documents, turned out to be the home of his mother-in-law, according to Sergeant O'Neill, who noted that two bongs -- a type of pipe commonly used for smoking marijuana and other illegal substances -- were seized there.
Investigators questioned Mr. Fleischmann again to obtain his address, but chose not to obtain another warrant to search there. Sergeant O'Neill said if any contraband had been there, it likely would have been removed before the police got there because of the delay caused by the false address.