Saturday, 04 February 2023

News

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Rob Brown (left) looks on as a large amount of marijuana removed from illicit gardens he discovered on his property last week is dropped by a helicopter used to transport the plants from the grow area. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 



THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED


KELSEYVILLE – On Wednesday, state and local officials eradicated thousands of illegal marijuana plants which Supervisor Rob Brown found on his property last week.


The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP – a multi-agency task force including members from the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Fish and Game, California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol, among them – pulled out the illegal gardens in a Wednesday morning operation.


Approximately 4,887 marijuana plants, which were not yet bearing buds, were cut down and buried on the property near Bottle Rock Road in Kelseyville, said Ryan Pontecorvo of the California Department of Justice, who was participating in the plants' removal.


Brown said the plants initially were discovered last Tuesday and Wednesday, when a heavy equipment operator working to clear brush on the land was confronted by a Hispanic male who tried to make the operator leave the area.


Since then, flyovers revealed the grow area encompassed about 100 of Brown's 300 acres, running along draws and low areas between the area's hillsides.


Tree and brush canopy shaded the garden from view, but Brown said the bright green color of the young marijuana plants was clearly visible from the air.

 

 

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A shot from a helicopter shows garbage tucked under the brush canopy at the top of the picture. This is taken after the marijuana plants were pulled out from around the trees. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 


In one spot, Brown said a spring that drains into a dry creek bed that runs only in the winter time – and which feeds into Cole Creek – was dammed as a water source for the plants.


A sheriff's office SWAT team went into the gardens early Wednesday morning before the eradications began in an attempt to locate any grower suspects, Pontecorvo said. No individuals were found in the growers' camp, which was located in thick brush on Brown's property.


Although none of the growers were found Wednesday, Pontecorvo said law enforcement did find a burning candle at the camp, which the superstitious growers light as an offering to a protective saint but which also posed a fire danger. They also found shotgun shells, he added.


A helicopter trip over the area late Wednesday morning showed extensive amounts of drip line and garbage the growers had left behind.


Pontecorvo said the operation likely had been built up over a period of years. Finding such grows on private land, when the property owner isn't aware of it, is not uncommon, he said.


Brown's small herd of buffalo stood on a hillside overlooking the scene as Pontecorvo and about 20 other law enforcement task force members and support staff went about the work of destroying the plants.


Many of the men – wearing green or camouflage fatigues complete with radios, drinking water and weapons – were dropped into the gardens on a 100-foot long line via a helicopter in a technique called Short Term Airborne Operation, or STABO, which they began using in 1993.


Pontecorvo said using the helicopter allows them to cover more land area quicker. In the case of Brown's property, they were able to traverse the large amount of acreage in only about two and a half hours.


Berk Berkley, who has been with CAMP since he retired as the sheriff of Madera County in 1986, said the helicopter's $809 per hour services are provided for free to counties that participate in CAMP, which is funded primarily by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and run by the California Department of Justice.


As to who was responsible for the illicit marijuana grow, Pontecorvo said it's most likely Mexican men hired by Mexican organized crime. He said the men are brought over the border by “coyotes” – or people smugglers – and deposited in the grow area, where they're left for months at a time to tend the gardens.


Scouting for sites usually starts as early as March, said Pontecorvo, with young marijuana plant clones planted in the areas and assisted in their growing by heavy doses of fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro or Romeo, which can wreak havoc on the environment.

 

 

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The marijuana did not yet have buds on it. Officials buried it at Brown's property. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 


Berkley said growers like places like Lake County because it's very isolated. “That's what they look for.”


Brown and his wife, Kim, were still unnerved by the thought that they and their children had been close to the area where the growing activity was taking place. Trails around the sites are popular horseback riding areas for the Brown children and their friends.


The Browns also reported that a large beef cow of theirs had gone missing, with the last tracks of hers that they found leading up to some pine trees on the hillside, where the gardens also extended. The conclusion, at least for now, is that she may have become meat for the growers.


Pontecorvo said CAMP's Region 5 team – which covers Lake County – is spending a lot of time in the county these days.


Last week, CAMP activities in Lake County resulted in the eradication of approximately 53,472 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $240 million, as Lake County News has reported.


Pontecorvo said the height of the eradication season is July 1 through mid-October.


One of the issues the Browns are still facing is cleanup. Pontecorvo said cleaning up an acre of land after an illegal garden is eradicated costs about $11,000 – from filling in cisterns dug to water the plants to dealing with miles of leftover irrigation drip line, besides damages to wild animals and natural vegetation, which can be harder to address.


Rob Brown said he'll start hauling out garbage and small portable propane tanks left behind by the growers, the latter a particular safety hazard in light of this year's volatile fire season.


Pontecorvo emphasized that anyone who comes across an illegal marijuana grow – whether on private or public lands – should leave the area immediately and notify law enforcement. He said growers often are armed and very dangerous, with recent cases being reported in other parts of the state where someone happening across a grow was killed.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

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A task force member stands uphill of a camp they located deep in the brush. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 


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WASHINGTON – On Wednesday evening, Congressman Mike Thompson will host a live town hall meeting via telephone and he is inviting every resident of the 1st Congressional District to join him.


Participants will be able to ask Congressman Thompson about issues that impact the 1st District and he will respond on-the-spot for all to hear.


The town hall will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.


“Telephone town halls are a great way for people across our congressional district to discuss issues that impact us all, like the economy, energy, health care and the war,” said Thompson. “Our nation is facing a lot of challenges right now, and I believe this telephone town hall will be an important chance to hear directly from 1st District residents and talk candidly about solutions we’re working on in Congress. I hope everyone will join me on Wednesday night.”


To join, when the call starts dial 866-447-5149 and enter the passcode 13293.


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MIDDLETOWN – The California Highway Patrol on Monday offered further details on a Sunday motorcycle crash that injured a man.


CHP Officer Adam Garcia said a 31-year-old Willits man – whose name was not available Monday – was injured in the collision, which occurred at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, a quarter-mile south of Arroyo Vista and two miles north of Socrates Mine Road.


Garcia said the man was riding a motorcycle westbound on Highway 175 when he lost control on a sharp left curve and went down onto the asphalt. He then slid into the guardrail that borders the south side of the roadway.


The man sustained major injuries and was flown to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Garcia said, adding he had no further information on the man's condition.


Garcia said CHP Officer Brian Engle is investigating the collision.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LUCERNE – On Tuesday night Lake County Sheriff's deputies tasered a man suspected of driving under the influence and possessing a dangerous weapon who had attempted to flee from them following a brief foot and vehicle pursuit.


Curtis Frank Anderson, 36, of Nice was tasered in the backyard of a residence at the corner of Foothill Drive and Victoria Street at about 10 p.m.


Anderson, who was driving an older model pickup, had traveled down Foothill Drive at a high rate of speed and came to a stop in front of the home, fleeing into the backyard.


The house's occupants emerged and began screaming at two sheriff's deputies who emerged from a single sheriff's car, who pursued the man into the yard and told him to stop.


The deputies were approached by another subject who they told to get back. At one point a deputy ordered one of the men to put down a stick.


When their orders weren't followed, one of the deputies deployed a taser that hit Anderson, taking him to the ground.


While in the process of taking Anderson back to the vehicle, several subjects from the home continued to scream obscenities at the deputies. When another subject refused to back away from the patrol car, he, too, was taken into custody.


Two other patrol cars arrived at the scene and assisted with an investigation. A towing company impounded Anderson's pickup at the order of the sheriff's deputies.


Anderson was subsequently arrested and transported to have a blood draw before he was booked into the Lake County Jail on a felony charge of possessing/manufacturing/selling a dangerous weapon or explosive and a felony parole violation.


He also was charged with misdemeanors including driving under the influence, obstructing a peace officer and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.


No information was available early Wednesday morning about the other subject arrested at the same time as Anderson.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – In only the first week of summer operations to eradicate illegal marijuana, the Lake County Sheriff's Office and other local and state agencies have seized in the county more than 53,000 plants valued at more than $240 million.


With such a start to the season, officials believe 2008 could match or surpass 2007, which proved a record-breaking year for illegal marijuana eradications both in Lake County and across the state.


Lt. Dave Garzoli of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Monday that the Sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Program kicked off its annual effort to eradicate illegal marijuana grows on July 7. The program is funded through federal grants.


Garzoli said in the first three days of eradication approximately 53,472 marijuana plants were found and destroyed in areas around Highland Springs Reservoir, the Glen Eden Trail head and White Rock Mountain.


Estimated street value of the marijuana seized is more than $240 million, said Garzoli, a figure calculated at $4,500 per pound at a 1-pound-per-plant yield.


The multi-agency effort includes participation from the state's California’s Multi Jurisdictional Marijuana Eradication Task Force – known as the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP – the Lakeport Police Department, Lake County Narcotics Task Force and the California Department of Fish and Game.


During the eradications officials found at least one firearm left behind when growers fled the area and in other sites located ammunition and shell casings, according to Garzoli.


Officials made no arrests during last week's eradications, Garzoli said. During the operations, one law enforcement officer suffered a heat-related injury and was transported to the hospital.


Based on the first week of operations, Garzoli said 2008 appears to be shaping up much like 2007 in terms of illicit marijuana finds.


Last year, Lake County led the state with the highest number of plants eradicated in a single season – 507,000, a state record – as Lake County News has reported. Plants were seized on private lands but public lands – primarily the Mendocino National Forest – proved a primary discovery area.


Statewide, more than 2.9 million plants were seized with an overall value of $11.6 billion, the California Attorney General's Office reported.


Garzoli said virtually every illegal grow site discovered in Lake County last year had evidence that indicated that it was directed by Mexican organized crime. He said the sites almost always were inhabited by armed Hispanic growers and the environment surrounding these grow sites was devastated with trash, chemicals and plastic pipe.


The same conditions were discovered last week, he added.


Garzoli said the illicit grow sites discovered last week were located in extremely rugged terrain at elevations of 2,400 feet.


Because of the remoteness of the areas, Garzoli said efficient access to the grow sites was possible only

by helicopter via a Short Term Airborne Operation, or STABO.


He said STABO is a technique in which two officers at a time are lifted on the end of a 100-foot rope by a helicopter and flown to and lowered into the marijuana grow site.


Once all officers are deployed on the ground, Garzoli said a search of the grow site for suspects is

conducted. Once it's determined to be clear, they begin eradication, with the marijuana hauled out on the long line.


Once a garden is eradicated, the officers are then lifted to the next site, said Garzoli, continuing on until each illicit garden is destroyed.


The illegal grows on public lands haven't just been destructive to the environment, they've also posed safety hazards for the public and those working on public lands.


On the morning of July 10 firefighters battling the Soda Complex near Lake Pillsbury were patrolling the northern flank of the Mill Fire to identify areas where fire crews should put in containment lines, said Mendocino National Forest spokesperson Phebe Brown.


As they were traveling through the area, firefighters were confronted by two armed men who spoke to them in a threatening manner in a foreign language, she said.


Brown said the firefighters left the area and notified Forest Service law enforcement officials and the Lake County Sheriff's Office, who responded to the Lake Pillsbury area.


“Fire crews did not work that location for a day and a half until the area was secured by law enforcement for firefighter safety,” said Brown.


Brown said neither the growers nor their weapons were discovered; however, officials located and eradicated a small illegal marijuana garden – consisting of 47 plants – on National Forest land in the Sanhedrin Wilderness.


She said law enforcement officials have continued to patrol the area since then while firefighters are on the line.


Garzoli said the illicit marijuana eradications will continue for the rest of the summer.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Southern California Incident Management No. 3 is managing the Soda Complex of fires in the Mendocino National Forest from Upper Lake High School. Photo by Lenny Matthews.

 


UPPER LAKE – A new incident management team has taken over supervision of the Soda Complex, which officials have estimated could be contained in the coming week.


Southern California Incident Management No. 3 took over the fire's management on Saturday afternoon, said Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles.


“We're still getting our arms around it,” he said.


The team is working from a headquarters camp at Upper Lake High School, Peebles said Sunday. There is also a remote camp at Soda Spike for firefighters.


The four-fire complex has burned 7,020 acres to date, Peebles said. It was sparked by a lightning storm that passed over Northern California on June 21.


Over the past weekend the two fires that are still burning – the Monkey Rock Fire and the Mill Fire – continued to grow, said Peebles, causing the containment estimates to roll back from 78 percent on Saturday to 64 percent on Sunday. Peebles said 330 firefighters remain assigned to the two remaining fires.


The Monkey Rock Fire, at 1,630 acres and 65-percent contained, is estimated for full containment on Monday, according to Peebles. The Mill Fire has burned 1,600 acres and is 40-percent contained. Peebles said the Mill Fire's estimated containment date is next Saturday.


“There's a lot of line to construct that they're working on it diligently,” Peebles said of efforts to contain the fires.


The fires are located on the forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, in remote lands to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury.


Conditions there are very hot, Peebles said. In addition, firefighters are dealing with steep, rugged terrain. “There's all sorts of hazards out there.”


The 1,600-acre Back Fire and the 2,190-acre Big Fire already have been contained, but patrols remain on the areas they burned in case of flareups, Peebles reported.


On Friday a firefighter was taken to emergency care, said Peebles.


“There was a firefight that they thought might have had a heart attack or heard condition,” he said.


However, it was later found out that the firefighter hadn't suffered a heart attack, and the person was treated and released, and is doing OK, Peebles said.


Peebles said the current incident command expects to finish out the fire, and said the headquarters will stay in place Upper Lake until the complex is wrapped up.


Pogie Point Campground at Lake Pillsbury remains closed and is being used as a sleeping area for firefighters, according to officials. They're also asking hunters to be especially careful of fire equipment moving through the forest, with archery season having begun over the weekend.


Peebles didn't have an updated cost estimate for suppression, which on Saturday had been placed at $6.8 million.


In other fire news around the region, the Mendocino Lightning Complex is expected to be contained on Wednesday. So far, it's burned 53,300 acres and is 85-percent contained, according to Cal Fire. Suppression efforts have cost more than $36.5 million, with 2,154 firefighters assigned to the complex.


While evacuations remain in effect in certain communities, an evacuation order was lifted Sunday morning for the community of Rockport.


Cal Fire reported Sunday that the lightning fires around the state have burned a total of 825,218 acres since June 20. There are still 288 active fires around the state, 16 of which are in Cal Fire jurisdiction.


In all, 21,447 fire personnel, 1,593 fire engines, 473 hand crews, 293 dozers, 406 water tenders and 126 helicopters remain committed to the fires, according to Cal Fire.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino or www.inciweb.org. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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A firefighter helps Mr. Ed get a drink. Courtesy photo.

 

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – On Tuesday firefighters came to the rescue of an injured horse found near the fire line of the Soda Complex, burning on the Mendocino National Forest near Lake Pillsbury.


At around 8 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters working on the western and southwestern edge of the Mill Fire came across an injured horse as crews were constructing containment line and preparing for a backfire operation, according to Forest Service spokesperson Marc Peebles.


Firefighters assessed the injured horse and found that he sustained injuries to his front legs and abrasions, said Peebles. The horse also appeared to be very dehydrated, weak and may have been in this condition for several days.


Peebles said they suspect that the horse may have been spooked and ran off during the initial lightening storm several weeks ago.

 

 

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The firefighters gave the injured horse tender loving care on the fire line, complete with apples and affection. Courtesy photo.
 

 


Incident Commander Dave Fiorella of Southern California Incident Management No. 3 ordered his Management Team to find a local veterinarian and for firefighters to prepare for a rescue mission, Peebles said. Dr Sherry Cronin D.V.M. of Covelo was flown by helicopter into the area to assess the horse’s condition prior to rescue.


The horse got some special tender loving care from his firefighter friends, who fed the horse apples from their fire line sack lunches and gave him water to help him recover, according to Peebles.


After a couple of hours, the horse began to show signs of improvement, Peebles said, and Dr. Cronin determined the horse’s injuries were minor enough that firefighters could walk him to a ranch a few miles away.


Peebles said the firefighters on the line affectionately dubbed the horse “Mr. Ed.”


Officials offered a special thanks to the Mendocino County Animal Shelter for helping to locate Dr Cronin and a temporary shelter location.

 

 

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Once Mr. Ed was given the all clear by veterinarian Dr. Sherry Cronin, firefighters were able to lead him to a nearby ranch. Courtesy photo.
 

 


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CLEARLAKE – A case last week originally believed to have involved the discovery of a cockfighting ring in Clearlake was not as reported, an Animal Care and Control officer said Monday.


An Animal Care and Control dispatcher had told Lake County News last week that the discovery of dead and neglected chickens at a 30th Avenue residence had involved the discovery of numerous roosters outfitted with fighting spurs, or gaffs.


However, Animal Care and Control Officer Terrie Flynn said Monday that no fighting implements were found.


While the investigation is ongoing, Flynn said she does not believe it involved cockfighting.


She said during a welfare check at the residence she found 25 birds with no food or water, with some dead birds mixed in among them. Many of the birds also were injured, she said.


Flynn said she took the birds into protective custody.


“I have located the owner and I'm dealing with that person now,” she said.


The original story reporting the incorrect information has been removed from this site.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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MIDDLETOWN – A motorcycle rider was seriously injured in a crash that took place Sunday afternoon.


The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash took place at 1:41 p.m. on Highway 175, a quarter-mile south of Arroyo Vista and two miles north of Socrates Mine Road.


Cal Fire emergency personnel responded to the scene along with CHP.


The victim – whose name has so far not been released – was flown to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for treatment of major, unspecified injuries.


No further information was available on the crash late Sunday night.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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NORTH COAST – Fires around the North Coast continue to wind down, with Mendocino County's devastating fires scheduled to be contained this week and firefighters continuing to make progress on blazes in the Mendocino National Forest.


Cal Fire reported that the Mendocino Lightning Complex in Mendocino County had reached 95-percent containment on Tuesday, with 53,300 acres burned.


Four fires of the more than 120 sparked in lightning fires last month continue to burn, Cal Fire reported. More than 2,200 firefighter remain assigned to the complex, which has cost officials nearly $40 million to fight.


The fires had been a major source of smoke in Lake County's air basin over the last several weeks. While some residual smoke is expected to remain, Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds said the county's air quality is in the good to moderate range.


On the Mendocino National Forest's Upper Lake Ranger District, firefighters had the Soda Complex of fires near Lake Pillsbury at 70-percent containment on Tuesday, according to Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown. The fires have burned 7,645 acres.


Three of the complex's four fires are now contained, the latest being the 1,829-acre Monkey Rock Fire. Still actively burning is the Mill Fire at 1,978 acres at 63-percent containment, Brown said.


Also on the Mendocino National Forest, the complex of fires in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness had burned 21,963 acres by Monday, with firefighters positioned near the Yellow Fire to protect private property at Henthorne Lake and historical properties to the southwest of the fire, according to Brown.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino or www.inciweb.org. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – Containment on the Soda Complex has increased with the fires expected to be fully surrounded by fire lines this week, while fires in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness have show marked growth.


Forest Service spokesman Marc Peebles reported Monday that the Soda Complex was at 72-percent containment.


The fire complex has burned 7,567 acres in remote areas to the north and northwest of Lake Pillsbury. There are 326 firefighters assigned to the complex, which is being managed by Southern California Incident Management No. 3, based at Upper Lake High School.


The two fires continuing to burn in the complex are the Mill, at 1,978 acres and 55-percent containment, which is expected to be contained next Saturday, and the Monkey Rock Fire, which Peebles reported has burned 1,829 acres and is 92-percent contained, with full containment estimated for Wednesday.


Elsewhere on the forest, the Yolla Bolly Complex, which has been rolled into the Lime Complex, has grown to a total of 20,988 acres, Forest Service spokesperson Phebe Brown reported Monday. Overall percentage of containment wasn't clear Monday.

 

Fire restrictions went into effect on Monday across the entire Mendocino National Forest through the end of fire season, Brown reported. Restrictions include requiring spark-arresting devices on all vehicles and chain saws.


Campfires are limited to developed campgrounds, with a campfire permit required to have lanterns or portable stoves using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel in other forest areas, officials reported.


Elsewhere on the North Coast, the Mendocino Lightning Complex remained at a standstill Monday, with Cal Fire reporting that containment was still at 85 percent, and burned acreage at 53,300. Total suppression costs are at $37.9 million.


As of Monday evening, all evacuation orders for Mendocino County were lifted, according to Cal Fire. Air quality is still in the unhealthy range in some parts of Mendocino County, although Ukiah's air quality is in the “good” range.


Lake County's air basin was looking better Monday, with blue skies appearing in parts of the county once more. Air Pollution Control Officer Bob Reynolds reported that air quality conditions are expected to move into the good to moderate range on Tuesday.


For more information about the forest fires visit Forest Service Web site at www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino or www.inciweb.org. For information about other fires around the state, visit www.cdf.ca.gov.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKEPORT – Lakeport Police are asking area residents to be on their guard in the wake of a woman reporting that she lost thousands of dollars in an Internet fraud case.


Lt. Brad Rasmussen reported that Lakeport Police received a report on July 10 from a local woman who said she'd lost $8,300 after receiving an e-mail that offered her an in-home business opportunity.


According to Rasmussen, the suspects offered to send the victim checks with a request that she cash them and keep 10 percent of the funds for her service.


The woman cashed $8,300 in checks through her bank and forwarded the suspects $7,470 before discovering the checks were fraudulent, Rasmussen said.


Since the woman originally reported the crime, Rasmussen said the fraud suspects have attempted to obtain another $18,600 from her.


“This could be a very large scam,” Rasmussen said.


Rasmussen said the Lakeport Police Department has identified four possible suspects in the case from South Carolina and is currently working with an agency from that state in an effort to develop additional evidence.


“The IDs appear good at this time because some of the suspect names are well known to the agency in South Carolina where the checks came from,” Rasmussen said.


It's a fortunate development in the case. “Usually we are not able to get a good lead on a case like this, but with the possible suspect IDs we might be able to make a case here or turn it over to another agency,” said Rasmussen.


Rasmussen said in many such cases of Internet fraud, the suspects cannot be identified or are operating from outside the country, making it difficult for law enforcement to investigate.


He said police are asking citizens to be aware of Internet and telephone frauds scams and not accept or cash checks from unknown persons or give out personal information over the telephone.


“On cases like this we like to get the information out to the public to hopefully prevent others from becoming victims of these scams,” he said.


If you live in Lakeport and believe you've been a victim of a similar scam, call Lakeport Police at 263-5491.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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