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Man forced to eat from garbage bins while tending to $880,000 weed grow

May 24, 2022 | Media Partners, The GrowthOp

This post is presented by our media partner The Growth Op
View the original article here.

“Big questions remain about how the criminal justice system should ethically manage modern slavery victims who are also illegal immigrants involved in illegal activity”

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Two Albanian nationals went from living in their home country to eating out of trash bins in the U.K. when the promise of work fizzled and they had to become cannabis “gardeners.”

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The men, aged 32 and 21, had been charged with feeding and watering an illegal cannabis farm. The grow, which included 1,200-plus marijuana plants at various stages of maturity with a street value of $880,000 and spread across seven rooms, was found during a police raid in March, according to Staffordshire Live.

Indications that something was amiss — producing or supplying Class B drugs such as cannabis carries a maximum prison term of 14 years — were raised after the building housing the illegal enterprise showed a high, and unpaid, power bill.

  1. Albanian man sentenced to spend 12 months in U.K. prison. /

    Albanian ‘gardener’ for illegal cannabis site to be deported after serving a year in prison

  2. Image for representation. A deadly fire occurred in a garage housing an illegal weed grow-op. / PHOTO BY DAN JANISSE /Windsor Star

    London police appealing for information after deadly cannabis factory fire

  3. Massive illegal grow-op busted by Hertfordshire Police. /

    Snookered: U.K. police shut down what is thought to be county’s largest-ever cannabis grow

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Staffordshire Police note that some signs of an illegal cannabis farm include a pungent smell, constantly covered or blacked-out windows, a high number of deliveries of large items, a constant buzz of ventilation and many power cables.

Illicit grows are no stranger to fires, and sometimes explosions, with illegal electrical hookups, bypassed electricity and overloaded wiring presenting risks.

Insurance company Direct Line Group reported in 2019 that it projected electricity thefts in the U.K. would rise 13 per cent that year. “In 23 per cent of investigations into the theft of electricity, the police suspected it was stolen for the cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs,” the insurer noted at the time.

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The accused men initially thought they would have work available for them when they arrived in the U.K., having spent up to a combined $43,200 to travel to the country, the Stokes Sentinel reports.

One man, who reported arriving with no documentation and travelling via the backs of lorries, said he wasn’t paid for the job, but would sometimes find food dropped off at the property’s front door, per Staffordshire Live.

The other man, who did not speak to police, was studying economics at university when he could not afford the fees and had to drop out. He decided to travel to the U.K. for construction work to pay down his debt and support his family, but upon arriving found that the phone number for his work contact no longer was accessible, the publication reports.

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When prospects dried up, one man was forced to sleep on mattresses in the former trading standards building for the Staffordshire County Council. Tellingly, the grow was located on High Street. Needing food, he also had to eat out of bins, adds Stokes Sentinel.

Both men were found at the location and had both been working as gardeners.

Debt collectors hired by the utility company initially discovered that something was wrong and the police were informed.

The two men appeared in Stafford Crown Court last week via a video link from prison. They have both admitted to being involved in producing cannabis, per Staffordshire Live. They were each ordered to spend eight months in jail and are expected to be deported after serving half of that time.

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In February, another Albanian national who argued in court that he was only the gardener for an illegal grow-op in the U.K. was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to producing cannabis. He, too, will be deported.

The judge wholly acknowledged the man played a “lesser role” in the illegal cannabis factory than others, but that his actions, nonetheless, contributed to causing “great harm to people.”

A U.K. study published in 2020 found that migrants arrested for working on cannabis grows are often victims of trafficking and debt bondage. “Big questions remain about how the criminal justice system should ethically manage modern slavery victims who are also illegal immigrants involved in illegal activity,” Heather Strang, the study’s senior author, noted at the time.

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