From the outside there’s nothing noticeably strange about this Tennessee property. The only notion that something’s up is the squad of police officers preparing to break down the doors as part of a targeted raid. As the lawmen enter they realize they were right to be suspicious, but none could have predicted how extensive the reality of the situation would be.
Cops raid houses every day; there are in excess of 20,000 no-knock raids annually in the U.S. alone. SWAT teams and police can obtain no-knock warrants if alerting whoever’s inside the house to their presence could jeopardize their operation – by giving the criminal time to grab a weapon or destroy evidence, for example.
No matter the kind of raid, however, the results aren’t always that exciting. Sometimes the cops don’t find anything at all. But in this million-dollar vacation retreat in Trousdale County, 40 miles from Nashville, they certainly found more than they bargained for.
Suspicions were raised after an electric company found that power disruptions in the area were being set off by their wires getting spliced and electricity being rerouted to the house in question. An employee reported the house to the police after he was supposedly chased off the property by a man with a shotgun.
Once the worker’s report came in, the police headed to the house to investigate. That said, they had no concrete idea of what they might find inside on that chilly December morning in 2005, just a few suspicions.
When they arrived at the upmarket property, though, it became clear that it was essentially a façade for whatever was going on inside. It wasn’t furnished, and it was pretty obvious that no one actually lived there.
As they stormed inside, officers discovered a hidden passageway behind a chunky metal door. A short journey down the corridor then brought them to an underground cave where they made an incredible find.
Hidden below the house was a massive pot farm. Moreover, the 250-foot cave that housed the farm had been converted into a living space complete with a bathroom, a kitchen and an air-conditioning unit.
The cave contained almost 1,000 marijuana plants in total. Half were up to 6 feet tall; the rest were between 6 and 12 inches high.
The room was also fitted with an irrigation system and a complex lighting and temperature control setup to boost plant growth. This was maintained by the electricity stolen from the county power lines.
It’s difficult to overstate the enormity of the cave’s operation. Every two months the growers harvested a walloping 100 pounds of marijuana, which meant they needed to recruit extra labor to get the job done.
The farmers hired six Hispanic workers – each of whom was blindfolded upon entering to maintain secrecy – to help harvest the valuable crop. With such large quantities, the operation turned over up to $8 million a year.
The marijuana farm wasn’t the only surprise awaiting officers, though. Little did they know that there was something almost as surprising awaiting them just past the cave.
As a contingency in case they needed to escape, the farmers had installed a tunnel that ran all the way to ground level. The 150-yard exit path was concealed through a hidden door in the cave’s ceiling.
Beyond the hidden door was a ladder that led to an escape hatch. And climbing through this would bring the fleeing suspect to a spot 100 yards from the property, with the trap door disguised as a rock to blend in with the surroundings.
After the raid, three men were taken into custody: Brian Gibson and Greg Compton – the operation’s day-to-day overseers – and Fred Strunk, its apparent mastermind. Strunk was arrested at his home in a wealthy Florida neighborhood.
At the time of his arrest in 2005, 63-year-old Strunk reportedly had $50,000 cash in his possession. He apparently also had a minimum of six I.D.s detailing the names of his alter egos.
In March 2006 Strunk pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering, theft and growing marijuana. Moreover, he received concurrent 12- and 18-year sentences for the latter two crimes.
Strunk was also ordered to repay the electric company $60,000. Almost two years after the raid, meanwhile, what was left of the property – which had been gutted by fire – was auctioned for $285,000, a price that included the 7-acre grounds.
When the police turned up on that day in December 2005, nobody could have predicted the extent of the operation they’d find inside. It’s amazing to think what was happening underneath an otherwise normal-looking house.