BUFFALO, NY - Another Law Enforcement Officer is on the wrong side of the law.
Buffalo Police Officer Jorge Melendez of the D District is accused of running and maintaining a marijuana growing operation just blocks from the A District police station. He's charged with conspiracy to manufacture more than 100 marijuana plants, maintaining a premises for manufacturing marijuana and manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants.
Jason Elardo faces the same charges.
Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda says Melendez has been fired from the police department. He and Elardo are both in federal detention. Derenda says no other police officers were involved but there could further arrests of other individuals.
The federal charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum of 40 years, a fine of $4,000,000 or both.
Federal DEA agents say Melendez owns a warehouse on 2157 South Park Avenue in Buffalo where undercover surveillance cameras were installed as part of the investigation. The complant says Melendez and Elardo were seen tending to the marijuana plants. Agents describe the marijuana growing operation as a sophisticated hydroponic system with PVC piping, irrigation, humidifiers, and high intensity lights, and growth inducing chemicals and fertilizers.
Agents say Melendez was actually seen driving his marked Buffalo police car to the South Park location in March to briefly check the location.
Agents say another growing operation was located in a warehouse at 1372 Clinton Street. They say their investigation also turned up cutting, harvesting, and packaging equipment for sales of pot at a home at 76 West Woodside Avenue. There were raids at all three sites Thursday morning. Equipment, cash, vehicles, boats and motorcycles were seized. Agents say various weapons were also found at the homes of Melendez and Elardo. They also seized up to 1,000 marijuana plants from the three locations.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul says, "This operation was literally hiding in plain sight." He went on to say, "Police officers are sworn to protect the public and uphold the law. It is particulary disturbing when an officer breaks the law he was sworn to uphold."