Non-medical marijuana eradicated from Thomas Mountain. Photo courtesy Gary Kuscher

The following story is true. A behind-the-scenes exposé of the working relationship between the media and law enforcement agencies.

Last Thursday, Gary Kuscher called and alerted me to a breaking story. He said law enforcement agents were in the midst of a marijuana eradication exercise in progress on Thomas Mountain. (I don’t have the creativity to invent these names.)

I asked him, since he has submitted photos to us in the past, whether he could get some shots. Gary agreed and you see one on page 2 and one at right. Unfortunately, he didn’t identify who the lead agency was in the public safety intervention.

He did discover that the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department (RSD), the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and U.S. Forest Service were all cooperating.

Over the weekend, the Sheriff’s Department posted a press release about a raid in two canyons south of Corona, but no mention of Thomas Mountain, Anza or Garner Valley.

Monday, as we were preparing our stories, I asked Marshall Smith to check with his Sheriff’s Department contacts to find out who was in charge and an estimated street value of the confiscated marijuana. The answer, “Not us, another agency is the lead.”

Since I’m not a snitch, I had to search for the phone number of the DEA Los Angeles office.

The voice of a youngish man answered, “Drug Enforcement Agency.” I asked for the public information officer. “Yes?” was the response from the man to whom my call was transferred.

“Is this the public information office?” I asked. He replied “No.” I explained that was whom I was seeking. He responded, “DEA!”

“Good, that confirms I dialed the right number and the person who answered also knew where they were,” I answered crisply.

He asked if I would hold. I told Marshall this is when they trace the number.

“Did you ask for the public information officer?” he inquired after ending the hold period. “Yes,” I repeated.

He said he would transfer me, but wasn’t sure if he could do it successfully.

He worked at the duty station, which is the group that sits and waits for calls from the public. Since I don’t know of any home growers I couldn’t help him, other than to volunteer to call back myself rather than hope he could transfer me.

“Hello, Drug Enforcement,” the same young male answered the second time. I explained the earlier error and that the “duty” team specifically said to ask for the public information officer.

“Hmm, public, hmm, public …” Finally, while he hummed through a list, I interrupted and blurted “Information, as in media, like a newspaper calling, which is what is happening right now!”

“Oh media, hmmm, media, yeah,” he said, enlightened. Then I was transferred to the PIO, who was out. I left a voice message and sent an email.

“No, not us, it was the Riverside County Sheriff. Here’s the contact name and number,” she wrote me.

I called the number, left a message and called the pager, too. The corporal returned my call.

“I told Marshall twice, it wasn’t us,” she firmly told me. “But DEA says it was” I pleaded.

“I’ve talked to my supervisor and we talked to everyone in the department and it wasn’t us,” she replied.

I wrote the PIO for the San Bernardino National Forest in case the bust was on Forest Service land. I got referred to the San Diego group, care of the Cleveland National Forest.

I wrote DEA back and explained the Sheriff said, “Not us.” And the DEA PIO replied, “Yes it was.” Then gave me the same name and number to call.

I find a new message on my phone, the RSD contact, to whom DEA referred me, just calling to assure me and stress that RSD was not the lead agency.

So, I can only assume it was the LA mob guys, disguised as law enforcement, ripping off the Mexican cartel.

That’s the news!

On Tuesday, without the PIO’s help, Marshall got ahold of the RSD officers in charge of the eradication.