A BANKSTOWN man has been arrested and 14 alleged hydro houses dismantled as part of an investigation into large-scale cannabis cultivation in Sydney.
The 24-year-old man was arrested along with a 26-year-old Dulwich Hill man after detectives from the Drug and Firearms Squad allegedly uncovered a network operating up to 14 'grow houses' in rental properties in densely populated residential areas across Sydney's north-west and south-west.
In September 2017, detectives from the State Crime Command's Drug and Firearms Squad established Strike Force Kilkee to investigate the hydroponic cultivation of cannabis in Sydney.
Following inquiries, investigators, with the assistance of North West and South West Metropolitan Region Enforcement Squads, issued 16 search warrants across Sydney from 6am today.
Police allegedly found elaborate hydroponic set-ups in 14 homes at Beecroft, Carlingford, Dundas Valley, Eastwood, Ermington, Greystanes, North Epping, Parramatta, and Rydalmere, which were examined by specialist forensic officers. In total, investigators seized 2260 cannabis plants, with an estimated potential street value of more than $11.3 million, and cash.
After dismantling the set-ups, investigators also seized a hydroponic, electrical, and lighting equipment, as well as chemicals.
The Bankstown man was charged with cultivating a prohibited plant and using electricity without authority. He has also been assessed by officers from Australian Border Force as a suspected unlawful non-citizen. The Dulwich Hill man was charged with the same offences.
Further arrests are expected.
Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Peter McErlain, said the greatest concern for police is the suburban locations of the 'hydro houses'.
"It is disturbing to find these set-ups in quiet residential areas, near parks, community areas, shopping centres, and even schools," Det Supt McErlain said.
"We know criminal syndicates choose these types of locations because they believe the houses look relatively normal from the outside and, if they're not noticed, they will have significantly higher profits.
"What is not considered by these groups is the significant risk of harm these places pose to the community.
"The insides of the houses were modified for the sophisticated hydroponic set-ups and fitted with extremely dangerous - and illegal - electrical bypasses.
"A surge in power or illegal rewiring carried out to bypass the meter can quite easily cause a fire or electrocution, which poses a great risk to their unsuspecting neighbours."
Det Supt McErlain said investigations are underway to identify those coordinating the drug houses and directing the activities of the 'crop sitters'.
"In this investigation, it appears the group has been working somewhat like a franchise; renting homes and then bringing in a group of people to modify the premises, installing electrical bypasses, and supplying the hydroponic equipment and seedlings," Det Supt McErlain said.
"As we've seen from previous investigations, the groups will often then recruit or coerce vulnerable or debt-ridden members of the community to cultivate the plants.
"We have now seized a significant amount of their product, and taken a chunk from their profits, and we intent to locate them and put them before the courts," Det Supt McErlain said.