Investigative

I-Team investigation: "Hidden in Plain Sight"

Rental homes being turned into marijuana grows

I-Team investigation: "Hidden in Plain S

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - Local homeowners are finding thousands of dollars in damage to their homes after unknowingly renting them out to people who never intended to live there.

Instead, the homes are being used to grow marijuana.

Homeowner Brooke Gunther was the first victim, and she isn't surprised it's now happened at over 30 homes in the Coachella Valley.

In January of 2017, her home was raided, and it was filled with hundreds of marijuana plants.
  
Larry Kurbatoff, a homeowner in Bermuda Dunes has also been victimized.

"Oh, I had no idea.  The magnitude was extraordinary," Kurbatoff says.
    
Authorities believe a Chinese organization is behind the grows, producing marijuana for the black market.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department Capt. Jason Huskey says, "In the valley, we think it's a small group of people responsible for several or dozens of homes that have become marijuana grows."

The grows are elaborate with timers installed in hallways designed to keep each room on a schedule with perfect conditions for marijuana production.

The damage to homes is extensive.

The power meter is bypassed so electricity can be stolen.

Ventilation systems are added along with extra walls.

The constant watering creates mold damage.
  
Undercover authorities have seen homes with over 1,000 plants.

The cases can also be difficult to prosecute, because the people renting the home often are not the people they claim to be.

"The broker had everything.  We even showed some of it to the detective.  The first thing he saw were the names and said they're all phony," Kurbatoff said.
  
Authorities are warning people to be careful when renting a home.

"If you have a renter who's only paying in cash or only paying in money orders, that's one of the red flags we've found in all 31 cases here in the valley," Huskey says.
      
Along with demanding renters use a traceable form of payment, authorities advise being diligent on background checks.
    
Ask a lot of questions and then watch for the tell-tale signs of an indoor marijuana grow.

No lights are coming from the home.

The blinds in the windows will eventually warp from the moisture.


There won't be any activity during the day.
  
There may be an odor of marijuana.

The damage at Kurbatoff's home may exceed $180,000.
  
A district attorney's office spokesman says one case has been brought with two people, in that case, pleading guilty.
    
The rest of the cases remain under investigation. 

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