PERRY -- Bond was denied Thursday for four Cuban nationals accused in an alleged multi-million dollar, marijuana-growing operation headquartered in Houston County.
Gilberto Padron-German, 24, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture, conspiracy to traffic and manufacturing of marijuana; Lazaro Padron-Martinez, 37, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture, manufacturing of and trafficking in marijuana; Juan Miguel Padron, 45, is charged with conspiracy to manufacture marijuana; and Rachel Martinez, 22, is charged with trafficking in marijuana.
The four were arrested Feb. 11 after a two-hour raid of six homes, including four that were gutted and converted into nurseries called grow houses. The houses looked like normal residences from the outside.
Combined, authorities seized more than 386 marijuana plants valued at $3.86 million and another 86.5 pounds of marijuana packaged for resale and valued at $432,500. Also, about $218,000 in cash was seized.
Wearing headphones connected to a Spanish-speaking interpreter, the four listened to the proceedings in Houston County Superior Court.
All four had U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds placed on them, but their separate attorneys each argued for a reasonable bond -- noting intentions to seek a release order for each from ICE that would require them to check in monthly.
Padron-Martinez, Padron and Martinez all had received political asylum in the U.S., their attorneys told Judge Katherine K. Lumsden. Padron-German was seeking political asylum to the U.S. at the time of his arrest, his attorney said.
The attorneys argued that none had any prior convictions, no firearms were seized in the raid and each cooperated with authorities when arrested. All had family in Houston County and other parts of the country such as Miami.
Kazuma Sonoda Jr., an Atlanta attorney representing Padron-Martinez, noted charges were only marijuana-related and included no accusations of violence.
While no weapons were found during the raid, prosecutor Kirby Wincey argued the sheer amount of marijuana and cash seized demonstrate the four are a danger not only to Houston residents but also the nation.
Lumsden ruled that the four are a flight risk. If ICE were to grant a release order, Lumsden expressed concern that based on the amount of cash seized, the four could flee between the required monthly check-ins with ICE.
Eric Bernstein, an Atlanta attorney representing Padron-German, noted his client lived in one of the raided houses, and marijuana was found under a bed. Without getting into much of the details, a mere presence defense is expected for Padron-German, Bernstein said.
Wincey said 22 pounds of the packaged marijuana was seized at the 202 Spring Creek Drive in Perry where Padron-German had been living. This was the alleged headquarters of the operation. The two other men accused apparently were also living there.
Gunner Park, an Atlanta attorney representing Martinez, said she lived in Perry with her parents, was a HOPE scholarship candidate and applied to enroll at Middle Georgia State College. Her parents were in the courtroom. Padron-German would also have stayed with her parents had bond been granted. They are also relatives of his, Bernstein told the judge.
The home of Martinez parents in the 1100 block of Kenwood Drive in Perry was also searched. Wincey detailed rental receipts and other documents that linked the four grow houses and two residences raided to the four suspects.
Vanessa Kosky, a Norcross attorney representing Padron, said her client has family in Perry and a 9-year-old son back in Cuba. Sonoda said Padron cannot return to Cuba or go to any other country under his asylum agreement.
Wincey described the grow houses -- before they were dismantled by authorities -- as the most sophisticated setup I have ever seen in my life.
Two of the grow houses in unincorporated Houston County were located at 338 Northlake Drive and 2617 U.S. 341 S.; a third was in unincorporated Peach County at 7287 Buckeye Road; and the fourth was in unincorporated Crawford County at 1188 Tribble Road.