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Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 04:24 pm

Under our very noses

Grow op busted in city's heart

Authorities say a former dry cleaning business at one of the city's busiest intersections was being used to grow pot. Photo by Bruce Rushton


HVAC boxes that appear relatively new are on the building's roof. Photo by Bruce Rushton


The building is adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Photo by Bruce Rushton


Note: This story has been updated to reflect monthly utility bills and the scheduled arraignments of two men arrested in connection with the grow operation

Police have busted a massive marijuana growing operation in the heart of Springfield.

The grow operation in a former dry cleaning shop at the intersection of South Grand Avenue and South Eighth Street contained more than 1,000 plants, sources say. Police served a search warrant last Thursday. What police found is reportedly one of the largest and most sophisticated pot growing operations in Sangamon County history.

“This is a very large growing operation,” said Sangamon County state’s attorney John Milhiser. Two men are in custody and are expected to be charged on Monday. Milhiser said they face between six and 30 years in prison.

The filtration and ventilation system was such that the odor of an industrial-sized marijuana growing operation entirely escaped notice despite the building’s location on one of the city’s busiest streets. The former dry cleaning business, Legacy Cleaners, has been closed for many years, but HVAC boxes on the building’s roof appear to be of recent vintage.

The building was last sold in 2013, according to online Sangamon County property records. Although online records show that the purchase price four years ago was $45,000, the property is being taxed at a fair-market value of more than $122,000, with a trust listed as the building owner. The city placarded the building as unsafe and/or uninhabitable on Friday. Also on Friday, neighbors say that authorities trucked off what appeared to be growing lights and other equipment. One man who lives nearby, who declined to provide his name, said that some workers who removed material were dressed in white hazmat suits. The man said he had occasionally seen someone visiting the building for brief periods of time in recent years.

“I knew something was going on,” he said.

Street-level windows are either boarded over or covered by interior screens. Windows on the second story are obscured by white paint. Monthly electricity and water bills this year have averaged $1,340 per month, according to Amber Sabin, City Water, Light and Power spokeswoman.

Zachary Pierson, 36, and Scott Foster, 31, were booked into the Sangamon County jail on Thursday by Springfield police and are scheduled for arraignment today. Pierson was jailed on suspicion of delivery of cannabis, possession of cannabis and unlawful possession of a weapon, according to jail officials. Foster was booked on suspicion of delivery of cannabis.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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