A Bronx man was nabbed for allegedly operating a large indoor weed farm two days before International Pot Smoking Day.
Ernest Guttilla, 48, was arrested at around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18 at his 1723 Fowler Avenue home after police officers from the 49th Precinct responded to the house on a tip that it was being used as a ‘grow house’, said precinct commander Captain Thomas Alps.
“There was crack cocaine in plain view,” Alps said. “And he was on a parole warrant for burglary and had been missing for the past four years, so it was a big win that we found him.”
Police officers returned with a search warrant the next day and found approximately 50 pounds of marijuana plants growing inside four rooms on the second floor of the private home.
Charts on chalkboards detailed when to harvest each plant.
“It was very elaborate – it was sealed off and insulated,” Alps said. “There were electrical wires running to the upper floors. The water line was tapped into and there was a water irrigation system on the top floor to feed the plants.”
Also found were 30 heat lamps and four large HEPA (high-efficiency particulate absorber) filters running to clean the air out and reduce the odor, which was so overwhelming police had to wear air masks.
There was also surveillance equipment operating inside the house.
It is alleged that Guttilla stole over $40,000 worth of electricity before being caught. Con Edison has since cut power to the home.
Guttilla was charged with first, second and third, fourth and fifth-degree Criminal Possession of Marijuana and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to district attorney’s Office spokeswoman Patrice O’Shaughnessy
Guttilla had been residing there for approximately six months, but it was unclear if he was paying rent. He was receiving mail at the location, Alps added.
It is unclear if the property is in foreclosure. The last recorded owner is Ismael Frade.
O’Shaughnessy said that in some cases the owner of the home can be charged in connection with such crimes, but prosecutors would have to collect enough evidence to show they were aware of the criminal activity.
The investigation is ongoing, she said.
Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee confirmed that the electrical meter had been tampered with, but said he was unsure of how much power was actually taken.
Reported estimates as high as $90,000 seemed high, he said.
The practice is also extremely dangerous, he cautioned.
A similar incident last October in which an FDNY captain was killed in Kingsbridge when an illegal gas line in a marijuana grow house being investigated by firefighters exploded.
Several firefighters and a few Con Edison workers, were injured in that incident.
On March 26, a building superintendent of a multifamily home in Castle Hill was arrested after firefighters responding to a fire found 10 pounds of marijuana and growing equipment.
Neighbors said they were surprised to hear about the bust in their usually quiet block.
Neighborhood resident Gamil Hassan said he felt relief when he saw cops show up at the house to make the arrest.
“I was happy because I have six kids, I have a wife,” Hassan said. “I’m happy for the cops who come when you have a problem. Thank God, God bless America.”
Andrew Gregory, 23, who lives just across the street from the Fowler residence, said he had never seen anyone enter or leave the house.
He said he was not totally shocked by the bust, and said such activity could happen in any neighborhood.
“I think people will do what they do anywhere,” he said.