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Drug bust on Iron Range nets 2,000 pounds of marijuana

A Side Lake, Minn., man has been charged with growing marijuana that law enforcement officers say would have been worth more than $1 million if it had made it to market.

Thorsten Gorham Otterness, 49, was charged Monday at St. Louis County District Court in Virginia with three felony counts, including first degree possession with intent to sell marijuana and illegal possession of a firearm.

Officers from the multi-agency Boundary Waters Drug Task Force flew over Otterness' property about 20 miles north of Hibbing on Sept. 10 and spotted the marijuana from the air. They obtained a search warrant and, later that same day, recovered 1,325 6-foot-tall marijuana plants, pulling some out by the roots and using machetes and chainsaws to chop the rest.

"We had him on our radar and that's why we did the surveillance flight,'' said Detective Dennis Benz, who heads the task force.

Benz said officers weighed the marijuana plants in a dump truck and measured some 2,000 pounds.

Benz said authorities will now dry the marijuana to determine its actual value for court proceedings. Considering a normal shrinkage rate of about 25 percent, the total cut would net 1,200 to 1,400 pounds. At a street value of $900 per pound, that would have totaled $1.08 million to $1.26 million.

Benz said the marijuana plot was easy to find.

"When you fly this time of year the stuff really sticks out from the air, they're getting so big,'' Benz said.

Officers also found a marijuana processing area on Otherness' property, including fans, florescent lights, grow lights, heat lights and more.

Otterness has a previous felony conviction in 2000 of third degree drug possession, Benz said.

Otterness was arrested and jailed but released on bail, Benz said. If convicted, the new first degree possession with intent to sell charge could bring up to a 30 year prison sentenced and $1 million fine.