Pot operation

Marijuana plants grow in a warehouse at 3462 San Fernando Rd. in Los Angeles that was raided by the Glendale Police Department. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / June 7, 2012)

Glendale police detectives on Thursday arrested seven people and seized roughly 1,000 marijuana plants in a sophisticated growing operation located about a block from the Los Angeles Police Department Northeast Division station on San Fernando Road.

The operation was housed inside a former office furniture warehouse in the 3400 block of San Fernando Road, with rooms featuring timers, irrigation systems, lighting to mimic sunlight and an air system to keep the smell of marijuana from escaping the building.

Another room appeared to be used to break down and package the pot. Marijuana licenses belonging to dozens of patients were taped along the wall.

“It's one of the most sophisticated grows in Glendale,” Police Chief Ron De Pompa said, adding that the medical marijuana issue is used as “Trojan horse for hardened drug dealers.”

The high-quality marijuana had an estimated street value of at least $1.5 million, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

The crop contained “enough marijuana to supply thousands of people,” he added.

Police are seeking assistance from U.S. Department of Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate the operation, which they said may be connected to a criminal organization.

The operation's cover was blown May 27 when Glendale Police Sgt. Toby Darby smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the building during a patrol of the neighborhood, Narcotics Det. Nelson Aguillon said. Further investigation revealed air conditioners on building's roof and a window covered with parchment paper that showed signs of humidity inside.

He later discovered the building's occupants were paying $6,000 to $7,000 per month in utilities, Aguillon said, prompting narcotics detectives to get involved in the case.

Detectives began monitoring the warehouse on Thursday, when they saw a black BMW SUV park outside the building. A man entered the building empty-handed, but came out carrying a black bag.

Police followed him on the Glendale (2) Freeway, where they stopped him for a traffic violation, Aguillon said. The man allowed police to search his car after they smelled the odor of marijuana, which is when officers found the bag, which contained two pounds of marijuana.

The man told police that he got the marijuana from a collective in Santa Monica and was in Glendale eating a burger at Rally's restaurant with a friend, Aguillon said.

Police arrested him on suspicion of transporting marijuana.

They obtained a warrant a short time later to search the warehouse, discovering hundreds of plants and seven people hiding inside, police said.

Lorenz said the seven men and women arrested appeared to be workers. Their names were not immediately available.

The warehouse rests on the corner of San Fernando Road and Tyburn Street, just outside the Glendale border.

Some neighbors of the warehouse on Thursday said their complaints about the warehouse were never investigated by Los Angeles police, despite its proximity to the station on San Fernando Road.

Neighbor Rick Corsini, who's architecture firm is next door to the growing operation, said he has been concerned with activity inside the warehouse for about a year.

“We didn't know what to make out of it,” he said.

After getting nowhere with Los Angeles authorities, Corsini said he reached out to the building's landlord, who he says claimed the operation was legal.

The lieutenant in charge of narcotics at the Northeast Division could not be reached Thursday.

“I am glad to get them out of here,” Corsini said of the pot operation.