Details of huge Okanagan grow op bust revealed in court

Aerial photos used in discovery and surveillance of suspected marijuana grow operation.

View from a helicopter of greenhouses suspected to hold a marijuana crop.

At the time police discovered a rural grow operation in 2008, it was dubbed one of the largest grow operations in Kelowna history.

And now, two men are on trial in connection to that 5,100 plant bust.

Cheuk Bun Lee and Kiet Tu Ly were among five men who were arrested when police converged on a 38 acre property at 8405 Highway 33 on Sept. 3, 2008.

Siu Shing Wong was scheduled to go to trial on Monday, too, but instead pleaded guilty to possession for the purpose of trafficking and production of a controlled substance.

He’ll be back in court in April after a pre-sentence report and a report to see if he qualifies for electronic monitoring are completed.

Another man arrested, Phuc Tran, was sentenced some time ago to a two year less a day conditional sentence on a charge of production and charges have previously been stayed against the fifth man arrested, Trinh Bang Chu.

In court this week, Justice Geoffrey Barrow heard that the RCMP investigation into the property began in July 2008, when Corp. John Collins had an email from a helicopter pilot forwarded to him, suggesting some new greenhouses on a rural property near Beaverdell should be checked out.

On Aug. 7, 2008, Collins testified that he flew with the pilot over the area, taking digital photos and getting GPS readings that he used to get a satellite photo from Google Earth.

He also contacted the regional district for the area and determined that the property was owned by a company whose only known director had died in 2006.

Following the Sept. 3 bust, he did a further investigation about how the five men came to be on the property, but that was not disclosed in court Monday morning.

Leading up to the bust, various RCMP officers went onto Crown land surrounding the property and took photos of people working in and around the 15 greenhouses and of the plants inside the structures.

“There was no question we were looking at marijuana,” said Collins.

However, Collins said he realized while doing that surveillance that he may have crossed onto the property they were investigating and took a GPS unit, carried by another officer, to the spot where he thought he may have trespassed.

When he got back to the office, the GPS data was input into a computer program and Collins said it showed he stepped over the property line, which was in a treed area with no fence.

Another officer spent some time watching the gate on the property and, on Aug. 22, spotted a man open the gate and leave in a GMC Envoy.

While relocking the gate, “he turned around and looked right at me. I actually thought I may have been observed,” said Const. Chris Dods.

He later learned that the vehicle was registered to the defendant Lee, who lived in the Rutland area.

By Aug. 28, police had judicial permission to go on the property, and testified that during their surveillance they watched four Asian males pulling down covers on the greenhouses and a fifth man briefly watching the work.

On Sept. 3, two teams of officers converged on the property with a search warrant and arrested five men before seizing and destroying the marijuana.

One man suffered a dog puncture wound to his cheek and another was bit in the leg during the arrests, police indicated during testimony.

The trial, which is essentially running concurrently with a voir dire to determine admissibility of evidence, is scheduled to continue today.

The voir dire initially began back in January, with Ly arguing Charter breaches in his handling by police.