When Nevin Keckler noticed police cars across the street from his home in his quiet, secluded East Pennsboro Twp. neighborhood Monday afternoon, the first thing he thought was someone’s home had been broken into. He would later discover police busted one of the largest marijuana-growing operations in Cumberland County history, if not the largest.“It’s shocking,” the 90-year-old Keckler said. “That is troubling to know it was that close to me.” Police arrested three people, seized 158 pounds of packaged marijuana and confiscated more than $44,000 in cash and 17 vehicles in raids at homes in the 700 block of Bella Vista Drive, East Pennsboro Twp.; and the 2000 block of Oakville Road, Newville.The bagged marijuana had a street value of about $500,000, District Attorney David Freed said.The growing operation and the size of it was unprecedented, Freed said. Police discovered more than 2,600 marijuana plants at the two homes that had the potential to harvest more than $10 million worth of marijuana, he said.Freed on Tuesday night won the Republican nomination for attorney general. He was unopposed. Police charged Hung Quang Pham, 40, of the first block of Kensington Drive, Lower Allen Twp.; Hiep Van Dieu, 38, of the first block of Scarsdale Drive, Lower Allen Twp.; and Winarni Yap, 30, of the 2400 block of Rudy Road, Harrisburg, with possession with the intent to manufacture to deliver a controlled substance, criminal conspiracy and corrupt organizations. All the crimes are felonies, and each could net 10 years in prison for each offense if convicted, Freed said. Those accused are in the Cumberland County Prison in lieu of $500,000 bail.Freed said that more arrests are likely and that police are investigating.It’s the biggest growing operation he said he’s seen since he’s been in office. “I’ve often said we can lock up the drug dealers, and we do, when the time comes, but the way we’re going to succeed is to disrupt the business,” Freed said. “That’s the orders the Cumberland County Drug Task Force is under. Make good cases, but disrupt the business. Let’s make this a place people don’t want to come and do drug business.”
Investigators suspect the drugs were sold in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts based on surveillance and license plates observed in the trade, Freed said. The investigation began in January 2011 when workers at the Edible Arrangements franchise in the Capital City Plaza in Lower Allen Twp. complained of illegal dumping in the business’s trash bin. Police found clues that led to the investigation, township police Chief Frank Williamson said. Investigators believe the accused were using the trash bin to dispose of materials. It took 58 officers about three hours to serve six search warrants Monday afternoon at five homes and a business. Officers from East Pennsboro Twp., Lower Allen Twp., the state police, along with officials from the Cumberland County and Dauphin County drug task forces, Cumberland County district attorney’s office, state attorney general’s office, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security assisted in the investigation, Freed said. Like other residents, Bob Walker was shocked to hear of the drug bust in his quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. He would occasionally see vehicles pulling in and out of the driveway leading up to the one-story home where police believe the growing operation was conducted, but Walker said he didn’t notice anything suspicious.No one answered the door when a Patriot-News reporter visited the home Tuesday afternoon.Terry Barry, who has lived across the street for 20 years, said he noticed a greenhouse-type structure beside the home when he would walk by it. Every once in a while he would see someone coming in or going out of the home, but they mostly kept to themselves, he said.“It wasn’t like a drug house where people were pulling up and driving away all the time,” Barry said, adding that the home was in a perfect place for the type of suspected activity. “What better place to do it?”
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