More than a dozen people were arrested after authorities uncovered a massive network of hydroponic marijuana growhouses operated by a Miami-Dade family for almost a decade, the U.S Attorney’s Office said.
Five members of the Santiesteban family were arrested and charged along with eight others, federal officials said. A total of 16 were charged in the criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court.
The Santiestebans grew marijuana plants in at least 20 houses they owned, rented or controlled in Miami-Dade County from 2004 to May 2012, the complaint alleges. The drugs were then sold to buyers in New Jersey, New York and Miami-Dade, officials said.
Eight of the defendants appeared in court Wednesday and prosecutors asked that they be denied bond, according to the Miami Herald.
“This was a very well-organized criminal network that operated here for a very long time,” William Athas, an assistant U.S. attorney, was quoted by the newspaper during the court appearance.
“They operated under the radar for a long time,” Athas told U.S. Magistrate Edwin Torres.
Five were also charged for the killing and kidnapping of Fidel Ruz Moreno in 2009. The suspects killed Moreno on the belief that he had robbed them of some drugs earlier in 2009, the complaint said.
Federal authorities said Moreno was wrangled out of his car, shot and pushed out the back of a moving vehicle. Moreno was then beaten to death, his body left along a roadway in Southwest Miami-Dade.
Derrick Santiesteban, of Miami, Gilberto Santiesteban, Jr., of Miami, Yadira Santiesteban, of Miami, and Norge Manduley, of Hialeah, were charged with kidnapping resulting in death and if convicted could face the death penalty.
Police continue searching for Juan Felipe Castañeda, of Miami.
Witnesses told authorities the Santiestebans hired caretakers to grow and harvest the plants. The caretakers were paid in excess of $10,000 for their services, the complaint said.
The family-run business was almost shut down in 2004, when investigators received a tip of marijuana being grown at one of the residences, officials said. No drugs were found in the home, though, after authorities failed to locate the room containing the drugs that was only accessible from the outside, the report said.
The operation continued for years and federal authorities estimate about 1,146 plants were harvested.
Others charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 plants of marijuana include:
Alexander Santiesteban, of Miami, Gilberto Santiesteban, Sr., of Miami, German Silvestro, of Miami, David Silva, of Miami, Raul Fabian Ramirez, Jr., of Miami, Francisco Javier Diaz, of M Miami-Dade, Alejandro Pimentel, of Miami, Dayana Castellanos, of Miami, and Estrella J. Mijares, of Miami.
Darvis Santiesteban, of Miami, and John Villalonga, of Miami-Dade, were also charged but remain at large.