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Deputies find second pot house

Island County sheriff’s deputies arrested a second man in connection with last week’s bust in Coupeville of an underground marijuana farm.

Robert Bell, 53, was arrested after police searched his home in Oak Harbor and found pot plants that had been set out to dry. Deputies discovered marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $48,000 at Bell’s home, officials said.

Deputies served Bell with a search warrant on Friday, Oct. 12 at his home in the Rolling Hills area just outside of Oak Harbor.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Ed Wallace said police found nearly 50 harvested and drying adult plants in a detached garage.

“The plants were good quality plants. These people knew what they were doing,” Wallace said.

The arrest came on the heels of the first drug bust in Admiral’s Cove on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

Deputies arrested Donald Phelps, 50, of Coupeville after finding 100 marijuana plants and growing equipment in the home near Coupeville. Police also found two separate growing rooms, including one hidden in an area under a crawl space that had been dug out deep enough for a person to stand in.

Police said the plants recovered were between 3- and 5-feet tall.

“They weren’t shriveled up little plants. They were good producers. That goes for both busts,” Wallace said.

The grow operation was typical and used specialized gear, he added.

“It was a standard dirt-and-water operation, probably four lights, transformers and ballasts; stuff like that,” he said.

Bell had previously been arrested at the first drug bust in Admiral’s Cove and then released, Wallace said.

Detectives assumed there was a link between Bell and Phelps.

Wallace was unable to determine if the marijuana was to be distributed locally. But where there is a demand, he said, someone will supply drugs.

While drug usage in Island County is not a new issue, stepped-up enforcement of the county’s drug problem was a campaign promise Sheriff Mark Brown made and he is keeping it, Undersheriff Kelly Mauck said.

“Before, drug use was relatively unregulated. But we have reenacted the drug unit,” said Mauck.

“Sheriff Brown promised the citizens to reduce illegal drug usage and traffic fatalities. We are seeing the fruits of our labor,” he said.

Mauck admits that before Brown became sheriff, drugs busts were more incidental and came from police activities such as traffic violations.

Now, he said, the sheriff’s office is more proactive about curbing drug use in the county.

“We are working as a main task force with Oak Harbor Police and Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” Mauck said. “It is a priority for us. Drug usage leads to other crimes. We have found that many burglars are also drug users.”

As the drug unit ramps up, Mauck anticipates that more busts will occur.

“We hope that they will decline over time,” he said. “If you’re going to be involved with illegal drugs, we are coming after you. It really starts with marijuana, because it is accepted that marijuana is the gateway drug to other drugs like methanphetamines.”

For now, the two cases are still under investigation.

Phelps and Bell are being held in the county jail but have yet to be charged.

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or swebster@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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