By Rick Sallinger

PUEBLO, Colo. (CBS4) – Pueblo County has become a magnet for those who want to grow marijuana illegally for profit. The sheriff’s office and Drug Enforcement Administration have been kept busy with 60 busts already this year.

Law Enforcement Bureau Chief David Lucero of the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office says the lure of easy money is bringing individuals and cartels to his area. He says they are often Cubans coming from Florida, but also Russians from New York and just last week someone from Argentina was arrested.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Bureau Chief David Lucero (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Bureau Chief David Lucero (credit: CBS)

Lucero says the pot is being grown under the cover of Colorado’s legalized marijuana laws believing they will be overlooked.

“What we are finding is they are transporting to other parts of country where they can make a greater profit,” Lucero said.

According to Lucero, marijuana in Colorado is selling for a $1,000 a pound. Criminals who ship it back east can sell it for up to $5,000 a pound. He estimates a single grow house can produce about $10 million a year in revenue.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Homes are being bought or rented at premium prices and elaborate wiring. According to Lucero, Pueblo County has factors that the growers from other states find attractive.

“I would say cost of living in Pueblo would be a draw. Another draw would be it’s a more rural county,” he said.

From the outside there’s little way to tell what looks like a nice typical family home. Inside one Pueblo West home last week sheriff’s investigators found what’s believed to be an illegal marijuana grow, a butane hash operation, and 19 firearms, including an assault rifle that was modified to fire automatically. Three men were arrested.

A home that was used for an illegal pot grow in Pueblo (credit: CBS)

A home that was used for an illegal pot grow in Pueblo (credit: CBS)

Lynzee Delapau lives down the block from one of the houses that was busted.

“It’s not the first one — just another down and around the corner before that. They’re everywhere, you just never know, they can be hiding in plain sight,” she said.

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While she is not bothered so much by their presence, others are and calling the police to take action. The sheriff’s office says in most cases neighbors are smelling the strong “skunk” odor of the marijuana. Often they find that the growers claim to be within the law to grow medical marijuana, but Lucero says it sometimes turns out they aren’t registered with the state or far exceed the allowed number of plants.

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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