Cops Stake Out Hydroponic Stores

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Here's a copy/paste of an article about my local hydro. store and I've personally seen the cops staking out the store on a regular basis.
Specialty gardening store plants seeds for drug investigations

By STEPHEN THOMPSON | The Tampa Tribune

Published: October 2, 2009

LARGO - On four different days earlier this year, an undercover narcotics detective with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office saw a white Volvo parked at Simply Hydroponics, a specialty gardening store in Largo.

The car was registered to a 37-year-old woman living in a Redington Beach waterfront home. The month after her Volvo was last seen at Simply Hydroponics, narcotics detectives raided her home.

They found 141 marijuana plants.

That same undercover detective also saw a silver and gray Honda Element at Simply Hydroponics, that led to a raid at a Clearwater home; a Ford pickup parked outside the store, that led to a raid on a Largo home; a green Dodge van at the store, that led to a raid on a St. Petersburg home; and two BMWs that were spotted at the store, that led to a raid at a different St. Petersburg address.

This is the picture that emerges from affidavits that were written this year by investigators to convince a judge to authorize the raids. Typically, after the plate number is jotted down, narcotics detectives go to property linked to the owner, and see if an inordinate amount of power is consumed there, or whether it smells of cannabis – two tell-tale signs there's a marijuana grow-house inside. Then a search warrant is requested.

All told, according to the affidavits, the undercover detective launched more than a half dozen grow-house investigations simply by running license plate numbers outside the store – a tactic that raises concerns that gardening aficionados might be unfairly targeted by narcotics investigators.
That's what the owner of Simply Hydroponics believes.

"We're being stereotyped and pigeonholed," said Allan Bednar, part-owner of Simply Hydroponics. "It's so ridiculous it's hard for me to grasp."

But sheriff's officials say the store is not being singled out.

"Are we targeting that business? Absolutely not," said Lt. Robert Alfonso of the Pinellas sheriff's narcotics division.

Says sheriff's Sgt. Sgt. Ron Wehr: "I don't have the manpower to put someone there around the clock."

But the impression left by the affidavits is that an undercover detective is there regularly.
He was there Jan. 21, Feb. 12, Feb. 20 and March 25, when he saw that white Volvo owned by Jennifer Ashley Arens, 37, a search warrant affidavit says. Arens was never charged, but Gaelan Clark, 39, was. He fainted when sheriff's investigators showed up at 16108 Fifth St. East, in Redington Beach, on April 30.

The detective was also at Simply Hydroponics on March 26, the day after he last saw Arens' Volvo, according to the search warrant affidavits. This time, he saw a green Dodge van linked to two St. Petersburg men who three years ago were suspected of laundering their drug profits through a tattoo parlor.

This year, as a result of the detective's spotting the van, the men were connected with a south St. Petersburg home, an affidavit says. Detectives could smell marijuana there from the outside, the affidavit says, when they went there. During the raid, investigators found 165 plants, $11,900 and two weapons.

On March 26, the detective also saw two BMWs at the store, at least one of which was linked to Richard Tyson Goodbread. Goodbread had been charged in 1997 with one count of manufacturing marijuana, but had entered a pre-trial intervention program, after which the case was dismissed.

When detectives went to Goodbread's home on April 21 in northeast St. Petersburg, they found 19 live marijuana plants, the affidavit says. This time, he was charged with two counts of manufacturing marijuana. In July, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation.

Sheriff's investigators say they are usually outside Simply Hydroponics in connection with some other investigation when the undercover detective runs a plate. The detective said that he will run a car owner's history through criminal data bases to see if the owner has a history, as Goodbread did, but if none surfaces, the detective says he will drop the matter.

"I respect the constitutional rights of these people and I put it aside," he said. His name is not being printed due to the undercover nature of his work.

Said Alfonso: "I'm sure there are legitimate people there that go there to do legitimate things."

When asked why the affidavits strongly imply each investigation is launched as the result of one detective running a license tag, investigators respond that the affidavits don't always give a complete picture – just enough of one to persuade a judge to authorize a search.

When the sheriff's office announced the raid on the Redington Beach waterfront home, the press release said nothing of the white Volvo spotted at Simply Hydroponics. Instead, the release said the case began after investigators received a tip.

Defense attorney Timothy Hessinger, who represented Goodbread, said he thinks the sheriff's office has a confidential informant at Simply Hydroponics who tells investigators when someone buys merchandise for a grow operation.

"I don't know if they work there or visit there or hang out there," said Hessinger, a former prosecutor. "I can't swear to that, but I'm pretty sure. Otherwise, how would they know what they are purchasing?"

As for the practice of running tags, Hessinger doesn't have any problem with it. "It's all fair. There's nothing illegal about it. It's kind of like police officers hanging outside a bar looking for DUIs.''

Simply Hydroponics is not the only business where a purchase sets off an inquiry, investigators say. Once, narcotics detectives homed in on a suspect after hearing he was buying an inordinate amount of topsoil at Home Depot, said Wehr.

"If you are in the business of growing marijuana, you have to go to a supply store," said Alfonso.

But a review of this year's search warrant affidavits filed by the sheriff's office shows the only business mentioned in any of them is Simply Hydroponics. Bednar, the part-owner, says he doesn't believe detectives are spending a fraction of the time at Home Depot or Lowe's that they are outside his enterprise.

And his isn't the only specialty gardening store in the nation getting singled out, he said.

He said he has friends with shops all across the country, and he's heard stories for years – store patrons being followed home, law enforcement agents knocking on their doors in the middle of the night, asking to take a look inside.

"It's not a new tactic," Bednar said. "It's just coming to light."

"They are going to target your customers," he said. "It's been an ongoing issue in our industry."

Whenever he or his staff gets the impression anyone is in the store to buy supplies for a grow operation, he said, the person is asked to leave.

"Anyone who tries to do a nod and a wink is thrown out of the store," he said.

And, Bednar says, Simply Hydroponics is apparently being singled out by the sheriff's office at a time when the business is trying to do good things in the community – such as lending its expertise to inmates in work release programs so they can learn how to grow food.

"We're doing everything we can, but there's not much you can do about it," Bednar said. "They are going to do what they are going to do."

Reporter Stephen Thompson can be reached at (727) 451-2336.


NOT good news.....
Maybe a BEWARE the MAN, Enter at Your Own Risk sign should be in place at the local Hydro store?


thats why most of my shopping is online or multiple stores. never big purchases @ 1 store, even though im legal. so to the pigs out there i commend you w/ a one finger salute. SOB's


I always pay the higher shipping and order from companies that are very far away from my garden. It makes it harder for the authorities to investigate, if they are considering. Also, remember not to order from Worms Way- they are bad news all around!


never ordered from w.w. so i dont know why not to order? do they co-operate w/ leo?


Starting to sound like Operation Green Merchant in the late 80's when the DEA watched and recorded all activities at hydro shops. I knew something was up when I went in my first time and said I wanted a small system to grow tomatoes. Then the salesman said are you growing Indica or Sativa?

I was also shady that the second time I went back he asked if I wanted to buy clones! I still remember he had NL5xSkunk#1 and BigBud.

Glad I stuck with the tomato story :)


W.W. goes out of their way to co-operate with all authorities. I stopped doing all business with them when I saw it first hand. And they are quite expensive to boot....


thx sshz. yeah ive seen there prices & is why i havent gone through them.


Well-Known Farmer
I shop where ever I want in Cali because I`m legal. Did have some bloke come by once and ask If I had any for sale,told him to hit the road! Hell the local LEO have taken Pics of my outdoor(by chopper) and all they did was drop by and ask if I had a script and make sure I smoke inside or out back because kids walk by on the street.When my house was broken into they took a report for insurance,didn`t ask to see the script,didn`t ask to see my garden,said they could smell mj most the time but not in my house,LOL! Insurance covered my bong,my sifter box,pipes,screens,ect. even my glass jars! But refused to cover my Meds! Dam insurance company!


What a story. You would think with the equipment they have these days they could be a long way away from the actual business. Does DEA have access to any satellite surveillance stuff?

Glad we don't have them up in Canada. The dirty rats.


Personally, I don't think any employee's working at Simply Hydroponics (the store in the article) is tipping off the cops;this is probably why the bacon watch the store from across the street. However, there is another hydroponic store, just 5min way, that I suspect is cooperating with leo. I suspect this store owner is a rat for three reasons: 1) someone I know got raided for a trafficing charge and weasled his way out by telling the popo about the store owner who was secretly funding grow ops. 2) 6-12 months later, 20-30 major grows all got busted within a month. 3) The store is still in business but cops never stake it out.

I recommend purchasing equipment online and from a medical marijuana friendly state, and keep the orders small - UPS and Fedex are also in bed with the DEA.

Worms Way is definitely bad news. I went into their shop few yrs ago and I swear the salesman was an actual cop. Not only was this clown trying to find out if I was trying to grow weed, but I could tell he really didn't have professional knowledge like you'd expect from a hydroponic salesman.

chief greenleaf

Ive never had any problems with the worms way in my area except for their high ass prices! I cant believe im hearing all this about em... All the workers at my location are extremely knowledgable and if you even whisper anything close to growing herb they let you know real quick that they dont stand for it! I mean as long as you dont say anything specific theyre very helpful but Ive never been asked about growing herb... My store sounds like the exact opposite, but I guess you never know. Cops staking out hydro shops is the oldest trick in the book, Im always on the lookout anytime I go to one.
So SSHZ do you got a source ta back this up that I can check out or is it just from personal experience??? I gotta look into this one a little more, Worms Way is a pretty trusted establishment in the MJ community around here. Alotta people would shit if this was true about our location!
I wonder if theyre all under the same ownership or kinda like a franchise type deal...


On the Eastcoast/Midwest I'd highly recommend either using a friends clean car or having a friend rent one. Also, look for a garden shop in the surrounding states and when you go make it worth the trip ie, stock up. Another strategy is to tie your car to a different residence so the plates show up for that house. Also, when you leave don't just drive right back to your scene, go out for lunch and take a circuitous route back, build in an extra couple hours.(Even CA etc really, drive a town over. thieves are still a concern as well)
And try to source supplies at other stores. If you use jiffy pellets you can usually get cases of them at other nursery stores. Same for things like ProMix. Use the hydro stores
only for things you can't get elsewhere, filters, nutes etc. Once you have your shit together you shouldn't be going very often. Get there right when they open
and get in and out quickly.


I say shop online ! Thats all I do. I one time noticed someone outside my local grow store and dam I knew he was a cop, No way that guy with glasses looking thru binoculars was a grower. Ever since then I refuse to go in person. I have sent my girlfriend though to pick up small items. Anything big , shop online!


Living dead girl
What a load of bull the sheriff is proffering. Of course they're targeting the business! Here's what's so insulting about him--that statement was meant for general consumption (i.e. the population), not just us.

I've only recently begun going into hydro/grow shops, and I'm legal in a med state. Why? Because, even if I am and it is, cops do what they want. I get as much as I possibly can from big box stores or regular old garden centers/nurseries.

S. Plisskin

Damn I'm glad I left the east coast. Thanks for reminding me why I will never go back.


In our area I'm more worried about bandits. People checking you out to rob you later. It's happened quite a bit and yeah it's speculation but in order to avoid the risk I drive different ways home every time. A brisk pace down a windy road, knock on wood, has been enough. :banana1sv6:


Reminds me of Operation Green Merchant....sounds like law enforcement is just trying to get their last kicks in before legalization...
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