"We will continue to target these criminal enterprises. Now that we know what is going on, we'll know better how to address them," NJ Attorney General Paula Dow said.
Thu Nguyen, a 44-year old Canadian national, was the first suspect busted at a ranch home in Monroe Township because a passing patrol officer followed his nose, smelling stalks burning in the fireplace. He called for back-up.
"We didn't realize what was burning until we exited our vehicles and began to approach the house," Officer Tom Lucasiewicz said. "We thought it was coming from behind the house. As we got closer, we saw it coming out of the chimney."
Police say a man inside was found to be burning unusable parts of pot plants in the fireplace.
Police recovered more than a thousand plants from the house with its foil-covered insulation covering the windows. Police say the suspects even had a way to mask the massive amounts of power they were using to light and warm the plants, which is usually a tip-off to police.
"They actually jumped into the wire, again avoiding the meter, directly into the wire running into the house," NJ State Police Lieutenant Richard Nuel said.
It's the same system used in five more rented homes in Millstone Township, Old Bridge, Manahawkin and Manalapan that police connect to the operation.
So far, 3 people, including Nguyen, and two naturalized U-S citizens have been arrested. Tuan A. Dang, 35, of Port Monmouth, and Ngoc H. Bui, 35, of Old Bridge, were arrested after authorities searched the Millstone residence. They face the same charges and bail amount as Nguyen.
Three others are on the run, including one who may have fled to Thailand.
In all, police recovered nearly 34 hundred plants, 115-thousand pounds of harvested marijuana worth 400 thousand dollars, and 65-thousand in cash.
Neighbors near the largest indoor crop said they had no clue what was happening next door.
"I never smelled a thing, which is even scarier to know that was going on," Wayne Moody said.
Investigators said they are still looking for more suspects and whether more homes were used in this operation.