NEWRY – A landlord who came to Maine to check on one of his rental properties called police when he discovered marijuana growing inside the house. The discovery led police to more than a half dozen different houses, 436 marijuana plants and four Bethel area men who were arrested on drug charges.

They are Richard C. Hamilton, 30, of Newry, Edward W. Aiken, 27, of Greenwood, Robert A. Carey, 26, of Greenwood and Brian C. Martin, 27, of Newry. All were charged with trafficking in marijuana, cultivation and conspiracy.

Police said the searches on Saturday and Sunday resulted in the seizure of more than $300,000 worth of pot from an operation they say has been in business for a year.

It began Saturday afternoon when the owner of a Coombs Road house called the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department officials to report finding marijuana growing in his building.

Deputy Chancey Libby and Maine Drug Enforcement Officer Tony Milligan were pumping gas at a station in Bethel to raise money for charity when they were called to the case.

The two officers who responded secured the house while a search warrant was sought, police said. Later, 50 marijuana plants were found inside the house. A pound of dried pot in plastic bags was also seized.

That search began an investigation that took police to seven different homes in Newry, Greenwood, Bethel and Sumner.

Police said leads that developed inside the home on Coombs Road led them to another rented house on Pond Road in Newry. More pot was confiscated as was a gun and documents related to the marijuana growing operation, investigators said.

Police said a group of men renting different homes in the Bethel area were part of a marijuana growing and trafficking operation.

Hamilton was arrested Saturday night on charges of cultivating and trafficking marijuana.

On Sunday, five more search warrants were issued for homes on Holt Road in Bethel, Howe Hill Road and Vernon Street in Greenwood, Sunday River Road in Newry and Barrows Road in Sumner.

Police confiscated more plants and growing equipment – including lights, water circulation systems and air purification equipment.

They arrested Aiken, Carey and Martin.

Police said one of the men was living at one of the rented houses searched. Some of the houses were not occupied but did have marijuana growing in them. And each suspect was careful to work with under 100 plants at a time to stay within certain criminal guidelines, investigators said. A person found with more plants is subject to a higher class of crime and criminal forfeiture laws.

However, prosecutors will try to prove that the four men were working together in the operation and, therefore, each shares responsibility for the 436 plants, investigators said.

While the suspects were being booked at the Oxford County Jail, drug investigators were crunching numbers. Agents estimated each confiscated plant yielded four ounces of useable marijuana. With a pound of hydroponic marijuana selling for $3,000, investigators said the pot seized over the weekend could have fetched more than $300,000 on the street.

Drug investigators also said, with three to four harvests per year, the men had the potential to make more than $1 million in sales of marijuana.

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