Deputies executing a search warrant in the Central California city of Merced on Wednesday found about 60 suspected human trafficking victims working at a black market marijuana facility, officials said.
The victims arrived several days earlier, smuggled across the southern border “with the promise that they would have a good-paying job and a place to stay,” the Merced County Sheriff’s Office reported in a Facebook post.
They were found living in “horrible” conditions, forced to process marijuana “to pay back the individuals that brought them across the border,” the sheriff’s office said.
“The human trafficking aspect of this is so blatant, it’s heart-wrenching,” Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke said in a video posted to social media.
Deputies found “hundreds of pounds of finished marijuana product,” with Warnke describing it as one of “the largest processing areas we’ve ever encountered.”
None of those found at the operation were hurt, the sheriff’s office said. One of the workers was a juvenile, who has since been released to a parent.
“The tragedy on this — besides the illegal growing on it, and processing — is the fact that there are 60 people here that have been promised jobs, brought across the border on the promise of making money,” Warnke said.
The sheriff said his office was “gonna do everything we can to help” the victims. His department also rescued three goats and two dogs at the facility.
Officials did not say if there have been any arrests.
“This is an ongoing investigation, and our Investigations Bureau is working tirelessly to find the individuals responsible,” the sheriff’s office said.