A newly released transcript in a federal case against a family of pot growers indicates they were involved in the unsolved murder of a 17-year-old boy. Four months ago, federal prosecutors
announced the bust of Gilberto Santiesteban Jr., along with with his
brothers Alexander and Derrick, for running a ring
that operated pot labs across South Florida and one in Osceola County
since 2004, producing at least 1,146 marijuana plants.
At their June 11 bond hearing, the feds revealed that Alexander is a "person of interest" in the teen's death. The boy was shot outside of one of the Santiestibans' grow houses at 19160 SW 132nd Ave.,
which law enforcement officials say the family had dubbed "La
Finca," or The Farm.
During his arguments to deny Alexander, Gilberto Jr. and their dad bond, U.S. Assistant Attorney William Athas explained that the 17-year-old had parked his car in front of La Finca one day in August 2006. The prosecutor claimed that a cooperating witness is going to testify that Alexander told him that "we thought the guy was going to rob the grow, and we had an altercation with him, and he was shot."
The victim drove off, but didn't get far. He crashed into a neighbor's mailbox and died at the scene. After the shooting, the Santiestebans harvested the ganja and converted the grow area into a recreational room.
Shortly after, Alexander moved to St. Cloud in Osceola County where he set up another grow house that was eventually dismantled by the sherriff's office there. The 31-year-old pot farmer was not convicted in that case.
In addition to the marijuana conspiracy and trafficking charges, the feds also charged Gilberto Jr., his brother Derrick, and two others with kidnapping and kidnapping that resulted in death in connection with the murder of Fidel Ruz Moreno. The indictment alleges Gilberto, Derrick and their co-defendants ambushed Moreno as he was driving his Chevy van in southwest Miami-Dade. They allegedly blocked his vehicle at a stop sign, got in the van, and drove away with him. While they drove around, one of them shot Moreno several times and then dumped his body.
During the bond hearing, Athas said a cooperating witnesses said Gilberto Sr. helped his sons destroy Moreno's van after they had killed him.
Before they were busted, the Santiestebans ran a profitable pot business, selling bales at $5,000 a pound. Their clientele stretched up I-95 to New York and they made as much as $200,000 per transaction.
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The Santiestebans' case is among several recent high-profile marijuana busts that exposes the violent side of Florida's lucrative grow house black market. Last month, a Miami-Dade undercover detective was shot several times by 56-year-old Gerardo Delgado outside a South Miami home suspected of being a marijuana lab.The investigator was accompanying federal agents who were investigating Delgado's pal Luis Lazaro Estevanell.
When the law enforcement officials approached Estevanell outside his home, Delgado opened fire from his car, which was parked on the street. The agents and police detectives shot and killed Estevanell. The detective survived thanks to his bullet proof vest.
According to county police statistics, Miami-Dade grow house busts are on the rise from last year. In 2011, the department made 89 arrests and seized 3,352 plants and 16 firearms from marijuana labs in Miami-Dade. Yet, between January and July of this year, police have made 201 arrests, while seizing 7,334 plants and 33 guns.