Tip leads to bumper crop of marijuana 718 plants found in Western Md.


SPRING GAP -- On a hill deep in the forest, authorities say, they have uncovered a marijuana processing laboratory and $1.25 million in plants being watered by an elaborate irrigation system.

"It's harvest time," said Allegany County Deputy State's Attorney Barry R. Levine, who also serves on the narcotics task force that scoured the woods looking for the marijuana garden.

Acting on a tip, the narcotics officers searched woods for two days before finding 200 pounds of marijuana leaves and 718 plants, most of which were at least 6 feet tall, Mr. Levine said.

Police also seized several thousand dollars in cash and an indoor growing lab.

Arrested were John Charles McLaughlin, 49, and his wife, Susan Flynn McLaughlin, 45, who police said used sophisticated methods to raise the plants.

Water was piped to the plants by a costly irrigation system that included a well-disguised hose running up a 300-foot slope, authorities said.

"Any civil engineer can tell you how hard it is to make water flow uphill, but that's what we had here," Mr. Levine said.

Spring Gap is located 10 miles south of Cumberland near the West Virginia border.

The McLaughlins, who lived at a house near the growing field, were being held on $75,000 bail each. They have been charged with manufacturing marijuana, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia and maintaining a common nuisance.

The growing lab consisted of several sheds where marijuana plants were "manicured," or cut back, so that they would be heavily laden with buds, Mr. Levine said.

Narcotics officers found the plants -- some of which grew to about 8 feet tall -- in well-hidden areas surrounding the sheds.

Authorities are still trying to determine whether the McLaughlins own the property.

The marijuana seizure is the largest ever in Allegany County, and it ranks as one of the largest in state history, Mr. Levine said.

In all of last year, a state marijuana eradication task force seized 11,210 plants with a potential street value of $12 million.

The plants were seized in all Maryland counties and in Baltimore City.

The most marijuana gardens were found in Harford County, where 125 plots containing 1,093 plants were uncovered, the task force reported.

In Anne Arundel County, 20 gardens with 851 plants were found; in Baltimore County, 59 plots with 851 plants were discovered; in Carroll, 29 gardens with 212 plants were found; and in Howard, 12 gardens containing 144 plants were located.

Police found the largest number of marijuana plants in Somerset County, where they destroyed 2,342 plants.

The marijuana eradication program last year purchased a $25,000 heat-seeking detection system that enables officers to locate marijuana by tracking the strong lights used to grow the plants.

But the device wasn't used in yesterday's bust. Instead, narcotics officers legged through the forest.

The officers simply went to the wooded area after an informant supplied the general location, Mr. Levine said.

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