I-Team: Who is Behind the Explosion in Las Vegas Pot Houses - 8 News NOW

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp and Photojournalist Matt Adams

I-Team: Who is Behind the Explosion in Las Vegas Pot Houses

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LAS VEGAS -- The explosion in Las Vegas marijuana grow houses prompted Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie to create a special unit known as Team Six.

Their job is to target the indoor pot farms. What they've found is a greater and greater concentration in the hands of international groups who have moved in to take advantage of foreclosed homes and cheaper rents.

In just the past 48 hours, Team Six has made two discoveries that hint of a much larger problem.

The exclusive community of Canyon Gate Country Club isn't where you'd expect to find a marijuana plantation. But a constable serving an eviction notice earlier this week figured out what was going on inside an expensive home.

The Las Vegas Pot House Murders

Like most grow houses, this one had been trashed -- damage that will not only cost the owner, but also taxpayers.

A Russian man, living there with his wife and child, was arrested by Team Six.

On the same afternoon off Blue Diamond Road, hikers found and reported piles of discarded marijuana -- some of it already harvested, leftovers from an unknown grow operation.

In 2009, Las Vegas narcotics detectives busted 108 grow houses, some of them operating on a massive scale. A former auto repair shop was converted into the largest weed warehouse ever seen locally, with 2,000 plants worth an estimated $7 million.

Anyone with access to the internet can glean the expertise needed to start their own operation. The men who created this masterpiece of a grow house had no previous records. They work for a California air conditioning company and commuted back and forth.

"With the foreclosure crisis what it is in Las Vegas, it's easy for people to come in from California, rent a house cheap for this purpose, then take it back and sell it to dispensaries," said an undercover detective.

Inside one pot house, police found labeled containers suggesting the product was bound for a legal dispensary. Metro says it's not interested in going after legitimate medical marijuana storefronts but the line is often blurred.

Las Vegas is now a net exporter of marijuana, they believe, and the trade is dominated by organized crime.

"What we're seeing in these houses is not medical marijuana. These are not a few cigarettes. This is hundreds of plants -- a level of sophistication you only see with drug trafficking organizations," said Metro Lt. Laz Chavez.

Lt. Chavez supervises Team Six. In its first year, the team saw huge increases in every category it measures – houses, arrests, product and violence. The potential for bloodshed is why the grow unit uses the muscle of a SWAT team to serve search warrants.

"Home invasions, robberies, even murders related to the marijuana grows and sales. The reasons? It's lucrative," said an undercover detective.

Sheriff Gillespie says these groups are organized crime syndicates.

"What we're seeing here in our valley are organizations that are working and it's for the money," he said.

Sheriff Gillespie green lighted the grow squad, in part, because of who controls the trade. Traditionally, Mexican mobsters sold most of the marijuana in the southwest. But a new force has emerged -- Asian organized crime of Chinese and Vietnamese origin.

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