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Hundreds of marijuana plants (above) were seized in homes in Fredenberg Township. [Photos courtesy of Wade Lamirande, Cloquet police chief]

Northland marijuana ring busted in Proctor/Cloquet area

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CLOQUET -- One of the marijuana-growing operations was as simple as removing ceiling tiles in a Proctor home and placing 46 plants in a hidden attic.

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Another grower hid the plants underground.

And others had elaborate hydroponic growing systems with air, temperature, lighting and watering all controlled by timers.

Northland law enforcement officials on Friday said that six Carlton County and St. Louis County marijuana growing operations using $100,000 in equipment -- and in the process of producing pot with a street value of $1 million -- are in operation no more.

What Cloquet Police Chief Wade Lamirande called a "sophisticated marijuana growing and distribution ring," was busted when about 20 officers, investigators, deputies and troopers from seven law enforcement agencies executed six search warrants within 48 hours Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Joining forces were Cloquet, Proctor and Esko police, the Carlton and St. Louis County sheriff's offices, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force.

Their superiors said some of those on the bust worked more than 24 hours straight and were home sleeping when a news conference announcing the seizure was held Friday afternoon at Cloquet City Hall.

Lamirande, Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake and St. Louis County Sheriff's Lt. Bruce Patterson said it was the largest combined marijuana bust ever in their jurisdictions.

Lamirande said the street value of the marijuana was based on what the plants would yield and the expected THC [Tetrahydrocannabinol] content -- the main psychoactive substance found in the plants. Patterson said that one of the growers reported that he could produce 3 pounds of marijuana every eight weeks and he hoped to sell it for $4,000 a pound.

Thus far, only one person has been charged as reports are finalized to be submitted to the Carlton County and St. Louis County Attorney's offices. Lake said Craig Alan Modean, 34, of Barnum Township was being charged with a fifth-degree controlled substance crime Friday afternoon in Carlton County District Court.

Authorities said the investigation continues, more arrests are expected and more search warrants could be executed. They said that David Donald Foote, 40, of rural Duluth is the alleged ring leader. A bulletin has been put out on Foote's vehicle, an orange Honda Element with Minnesota license plates NAL 129.

Proctor Police Chief Walter Wobig said the bust mushroomed as each search warrant was executed. "We had individuals who started cooperating with us that led us to other areas,'' he said. "The different areas had different plants growing in different stages. This definitely looks like an operation tied together where they could have a constant flow of the crop."

Raids began Wednesday in Fredenberg Township, Proctor, Cloquet and Barnum and resulted in the seizure of 927 high-grade marijuana plants, 22 pounds of processed marijuana and numerous handguns and long guns.

The first bust occurred at a Fredenberg Township property where 98 plants and 5 pounds of processed pot were found.

Police said that led to a second search warrant executed at a home in Proctor, where 46 plants and 6 pounds of processed pot were found, along with numerous firearms.

Wednesday night, officers found a large indoor hydroponic marijuana operation in Barnum, where 325 plants and 2 pounds of processed marijuana were seized.

Eventually officers were led back to another home in Fredenberg Township where another large hydroponic growing operation was found that included 458 plants and 6 pounds of processed marijuana, along with multiple firearms.

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