Two Tampa men were arrested this weekend after investigators seized 48 pounds of marijuana in a garage near Carrollwood. According to the arrest affidavits, undercover investigators watched the garage for several months. They served a search warrant Saturday afternoon after reportedly smelling marijuana outside the home.
Inside the garage, Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies say they found several electrical ballasts in the back of a Mercedes. Ballasts stabilize electrical current through an electrical load. Ballasts can also be used simply to deliberately reduce the current in an ordinary circuit. Sheriff’s deputies consulted with Tampa Electric Co. investigators at the scene and allegedly confirmed they were the type of ballasts used in grow operations to support high volumes of electricity.
Investigators also claim the house’s electricity was set up to steal power but was not being used that way.
Andersson Hernandez-Marquez, who is listed as the owner of the house, was arrested. He was renting the residence to another man whose name was on the electric bill, according to affidavits, but the renter did not appear to be involved in the case.
Also arrested was Raul Hernandez-Marquez. Both men are charged with several counts related to manufacturing and trafficking cannabis (marijuana). Both men were being held without bail Sunday in Hillsborough County jail.
If the Hernandez-Marquezes are convicted, the trafficking charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. A cultivation/manufacturing charge is a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine if they have no relevant criminal history.
Based on the news reports, it is unclear whether they were charged under Florida’s Marijuana Grow House Eradication law. Florida law makes it a second-degree felony to grow 25 or more marijuana plants (the previous threshold was 300 plants). It is a third-degree felony to own a house for the purpose of cultivating, packaging and distributing marijuana and a first-degree felony to grow 25 or more plants in a home with children present.