The department was made aware of the illicit operation from a community complaint, and after investigating the lead, Vice detectives were able to narrow down the location to an industrial complex near the 2100 block of S. Yale Street, the department said in a statement.
The detectives served a search warrant on the property on Aug. 11, where initially they found a large-scale marijuana grow operation, with about six individuals inside, who were detained.
Santa Ana Police Department public information officer Sonya Royo told The Epoch Times the grow house had the usual elements of typical grow houses, such as lights to mimic sunlight for the plants to grow and regular watering.
After an initial investigation of the building, detectives were led by further evidence to an adjacent building in the same complex.
“There was a multitude of [evidence] that led them into that building,” Royo said. “There was our canine drug detection dog that had a positive hit on there, but in addition to that, they found evidence from the first location that led them to the second location, and having a dog go and do a hit only amplified the reason why they were able to get into that secondary building.”
Royo said there were cables running from the first building to the second building that also gave clues.
After getting another search warrant and entering the second business, detectives found a marijuana packaging facility with 93 people inside, along with “large amounts of marijuana.”
“[The second building] would be the aftermath,” Royo noted. “Once these marijuana plants grew to their full potential, they would then harvest them and then they would process them on the opposite side and dry them and package them.”
Of the 93 individuals in the second building, three of them were juveniles, and it is believed they were victims of labor trafficking due to the poor conditions inside the facility.
“[To determine trafficking,] the most important thing is people are willing to work and not being told to work for an incentive. The reason why it became labor trafficking is because of the conditions that we found this particular building in. It was a commercial building, but there were 93 individuals that were working in this building that were working at around 4 a.m. until really late hours in the night, seven days a week,” she said.
“When you’re working more than, you know, 13, 14 hours a day, that’s labor trafficking,” Royo said. There were minimal breaks, it was poorly ventilated, extreme heat with no AC, it was just horrible conditions for someone to be working in.”
The Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force is also involved in investigating any human trafficking ties.
There were no arrests made, though the individuals were cited for working in an illegal cultivation facility, and then released. The three juveniles were taken to local county services where they were provided assistance in getting back to their parents, Royo said.