A patrol cop with a sensitive schnoz was credited today with uprooting what authorities say is the biggest marijuana-growing operation in New Jersey's history.
Police last month raided six homes - several of them $1 million McMansions - and seized more than $10 million worth of cannabis growing inside under artificial lights, authorities announced today.
"While law enforcement in New Jersey has encountered high-tech indoor marijuana growing operations in the past, we have not seen anything to match the volume of production of this criminal enterprise," said state Attorney General Paula T. Dow.
The bust might not have happened if Officer Thomas Lucasiewicz had been suffering from a head cold. The Monroe Township cop was on patrol Feb. 12 when he smelled burning marijuana in an upscale Middlesex County community.
At first, Lucasiewicz thought somebody might be smoking a joint in a car parked nearby, said Sgt. Steve Jones, a state police spokesman.
"But with his bloodhound senses, he realized it was much stronger than he first thought," Jones said. "He followed his nose. Then he saw smoke rising from a chimney."
Overpowered by the scent, Lucasiewicz called his squad. When backup arrived, Lucasiewicz knocked on the door of the single-story ranch house.
They were greeted by a surprised man, "the gardener, essentially, who was burning some of the unusable parts of the plants in the fireplace," Jones said.
Lucasiewicz arrested the gardener, Thu N. Nguyen, 44, and, realizing he had uncovered a huge grow operation, called in the state police.
Inside the rented home, investigators found 1,064 plants in four cultivation areas set up in the basement and the master bedroom. In the garage they found 50 pounds of packaged pot.
During the following week, state police raided five more rented homes in Millstone Township, Old Bridge, Manahawkin and Manalapan.
"They each had been turned into pot factories," Jones said.
Along with a vast array of indoor cultivation equipment, police seized 3,370 growing plants, 115 pounds of harvested marijuana and $65,000 cash from the four homes.