Emily Baucum, News On 6
CREEK COUNTY, Oklahoma -- A drug bust in Creek County revealed a new front line in Oklahoma's war on drugs.
Deputies raided a marijuana farm deep inside the woods near Keystone Lake Saturday. They say the operation was run by illegal immigrants likely connected to Mexican drug cartels.
Authorities say those types of camps have become more common in Oklahoma because crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with drugs is so risky. So the cartels are eliminating that risk by growing marijuana in isolated areas like those woods in Creek County.
The Creek County Sheriff's Office was tipped off about the camp site -- where several men lived and worked for several months secretly harvesting pot.
"In many cases they're just dumped in these patches for sometimes months at a time. They have to fend for themselves while they're growing marijuana," said Mark Woodward, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
Woodward says in the past three years, authorities have busted nine patches just like Saturday's bust, connected to Mexican drug cartels.
"Illegal immigrants from Mexico who are paid pennies on the dollar to grow for other people," he said. "They've got camp sites, tortillas and eggs in the creek."
Woodward says the cartels pick isolated places with plenty of trees for coverage and access to water from a creek or river. The farmers protect it at all costs.
"These people have a lot of money at stake. They're there to protect their investment and they will go to lengths, whether it's booby trapping the batches, trip wires, shotgun shells," Woodward said.
To catch the cartels, investigators have to get creative. The Bureau of Narcotics runs helicopter patrols over Oklahoma's woods and mountains. Investigators are trained to spot one plant from 900 feet in the air.
"Sometimes they will stand out because they don't look like trees. They have a different coloring, a different texture. They don't blow the same way in the wind," Woodward said.
Once a marijuana patch is spotted, ground crews bust it. But if the terrain is too treacherous, investigators can rappel from the helicopter straight down into the patch.
"Hopefully this will send a message to them - they're going to get caught," Woodward said.
The Bureau of Narcotics says once a marijuana patch is busted, the cartel workers scatter and typically don't return to that spot.
Creek County deputies are still looking for the group of men whose farm they busted over the weekend.