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2 men arrested in New York marijuana grow operation

NEW YORK - Two men who investigators believe were operating a marijuana grow house in a rural part of Sullivan County, N.Y., were arrested Wednesday, following an investigation by the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force.

Lawrence C. Herz, 34, of Hollis, N.Y., and Michael J. Sztropkalyi, 33, of Smallwood, N.Y., were taken into custody by federal agents after a search warrant was executed at a house believed to be the site the marijuana grow operation. A search of the home in Smallwood resulted in the discovery of approximately 150 marijuana plants, lights, a humidifier, pots, soil and other materials used in marijuana grow houses.

According to the complaint filed in the case, Sztropkalyi said that Herz approached him in September 2010 about starting a marijuana grow operation. Within a matter of weeks, the men had purchased the equipment for the grow house at a garden store in Brooklyn, New York.

"The action against this marijuana operation will not only help keep drugs off the street, it will help ensure that the profits from the sale of those drugs aren't used to support future criminal activity," said James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York. "We remain committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure the offenders are brought to justice."

"These alleged drug producers and distributors might have seemed ingenious, operating a 'grow house' with some 150 marijuana plants in an obscure, rural area. Fortunately, federal law enforcement officers and their local counterparts were smarter," said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "I commend the cooperative efforts that shut down this operation and brought its alleged perpetrators to justice."

"From locations in the inner city to locations in rural areas, marijuana distributors are capitalizing on illegal production and sales for one reason and one reason only - to make a profit," said John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in New York. "There is no forethought of the dangers of drug abuse or the dangers of operating a marijuana grow operation - like fire risks and pollution - in a residential environment, but it is law enforcement's commitment to keeping our neighborhoods safe that led us to identify and arrest those responsible for this illegal operation."

Herz and Sztropkalyi appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge Thursday afternoon in the federal court house in White Plains, N.Y. Both remain in federal custody without bail. If convicted, each man faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum of 40 years in custody.

This case was investigated by the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which is comprised of representatives of the DEA, ICE HSI, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Attorney's office and the New York Police Department. The Sullivan County sheriff's office also assisted in this investigation.