Ventura County – Perhaps it’s the fact that California is in an unprecedented drought wherein the state’s agricultural industries are being forced to deal with increasing costs of irrigation. Perhaps it’s the fact that the cost of owning and maintaining a private residence in many Southern California neighborhoods is on an upward trend to such an extent that merely “living” in a house is no longer cost-effective. Or perhaps it’s the fact that the cultivation of marijuana—whether in the forests and foothills of the state’s parklands or inside one’s own bathroom—remains a highly profitable enterprise thanks to the federal government’s resistance to all efforts to legalize cannabis products.
Whatever the reason may be, Michael Eastman, 29, a resident of Moorpark, Anthony Morales, 29, who lives in Sylmar, and Jonathan Ghobrial, a 22-year old from West Hills, were the apparent principals of a sophisticated and large-scale indoor marijuana cultivation enterprise that suddenly came to an abrupt end with their arrests on July 15th. It was on that date, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Jose Rivera, that a month-long investigation conducted by the VCSD Narcotics Unit, originally begun by a VCSD patrol deputy who had responded to a service call at Eastman’s home in the upscale gated community of Bell Canyon and at that time noticed “indicators the residence was possibly being used to cultivate marijuana”, came to a productive conclusion.
Pursuant to the initial law enforcement contact in June 2015, narcotics detectives initiated surveillance of Eastman’s home which led to the issuance of a search warrant. On the day the warrant was to be executed, detectives spotted Eastman leaving his house in the company of Morales and Ghobrial, whereupon their vehicle became the subject of a traffic stop. While the three were detained by detectives, the search of Eastman’s home was conducted and revealed the entire residence had been converted to an indoor hydroponic marijuana cultivation operation. A subsequent search of Morales’ and Ghobrial’s homes revealed identical operations there, totaling more than 200 thriving plants at each location. As detailed by Rivera, “all three residences had minimal living quarters” and had been fully converted to their agricultural purposes.
Morales, Ghobrial, and Eastman were all arrested and transported to Ventura County Jail where they were booked on charges of illegal marijuana cultivation, with their bail set at $20,000 each.
Photo: courtesy Ventura County Sheriff