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Wesley Chapel man accused of operating grow house

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— A 62-year-old Wesley Chapel man faces a charge of armed trafficking in marijuana after an investigation of electricity theft led to the discovery he was operating a grow house inside his home, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office reported.

The grow house came to light Tuesday when Withlachoochee River Electric Cooperative employees, checking the electric meter at 4821 Foxwood Drive, found that Roy F. Arias had set up a wiring system to divert the electricity coming to his house so that it bypassed the meter, an arrest report said.

Power theft by people operating grow houses is becoming a common scenario, Sheriff Chris Nocco and a Withlacoochee spokesman said at a Tuesday news conference, just a few hours before Arias’ arrest.

Nocco said in the past two weeks seven cases were uncovered that involved a total of $206,000 worth of electricity stolen.

“It’s astronomical what has been going on,” he said.

David Lambert, WREC’s chief information officer, said that since 2006, the Dade City-based cooperative has encountered 150 marijuana grow houses that were tampering with its equipment. The stolen electricity amounted to $2.5 million in lost revenue, he said.

Lambert said WREC is offering a $500 reward to any of its customers who report suspicious activity that leads to the arrest and conviction of someone for stealing electricity or damaging the company’s equipment.

In the latest case in Wesley Chapel, the co-op contacted the sheriff’s office after finding the meter had been tampered with at Arias’ home. A deputy who questioned Arias learned that he was growing more than 150 marijuana plants inside the house, the arrest report said.

The grow operation included electrical equipment, such as lights, fans, air-conditioning units and pumps, the report said. The deputy also found a .38-caliber handgun, a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and a .22-caliber rifle inside the house, along with a small amount of cocaine in Arias’ left sock.

In addition to the marijuana trafficking charge, Arias also faces charges of possession of cocaine and theft of service. He was taken to the Land O’ Lakes Jail where he is being held with bail set at $55,150.

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