Police in California announced the discovery of around 60 people, including “victims of human trafficking,” working at an illegal marijuana processing site under “horrible conditions.”
The Merced County Sheriff’s Office said those found at the location along the 900 block of Vassar Avenue in Merced, California, on Wednesday were being forced to process marijuana in order to “pay back the individuals that brought them across the border.”
“We are at the scene of one of the largest processing areas we have ever encountered. We literally have thousands of pounds of finished product marijuana from an illegal grow and illegal source,” Sheriff Vern Warnke said in a video posted on Facebook.
“The tragedy on this — besides the illegal growing of it and processing — is the fact that there are 60 people here that have been promised jobs. Brought across the border on the promise of making money each day. These folks are indentured,” Warnke continued. “They owe money and yet here we are at an illegal processing center and they are scared to death.”
Warnke said authorities are going to do “everything we can to help” the people who were found, but “it’s a travesty, tragedy, all the things you can think about because we have 60 lives that have been upturned because of this.”
“Send some prayers please,” he added, noting that the “human trafficking aspect of this is so blatant it’s heart-wrenching.”
Police said they found one juvenile at the site working in the operation, and Child Protective Services was contacted as a result.
The juvenile has since been released to their parent.
“Our Investigations Bureau arrived on the scene and determined these individuals were victims of human trafficking,” the Merced County Sheriff’s Office said.
First responders also rescued three goats and two dogs suffering from “inadequate care” at the site.
As of Friday, no arrests have been made.
“This is an ongoing investigation, and our Investigations Bureau is working tirelessly to find the individuals responsible,” according to the Merced County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office released images showing marijuana spread out along trays on top of cardboard boxes.
In one of the photos, a ceiling could be seen falling apart inside a structure.
Merced is between the cities of Modesto and Fresno and is in California’s Bay Area.