Park rangers, state police uncover large marijuana growing operation in Tuscarora State Forest

MIFFLIN BORO, Juniata County — A Juniata County couple was arrested and charged with running an extensive marijuana growing operation out of their home and in Tuscarora State Forest, according to accounts by Pennsylvania State Police and state forest rangers.

Jeremy Alan Leach and Erin R. Leach, both of the 100 block of Summit Street in Mifflin Boro, are facing several charges, including possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, destruction of timber, and other offenses.

According to an account provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees Tuscarora State Forest, the investigation began in August of 2015, when a ranger discovered a marijuana grow garden off Pine Ridge Road in Bratton Township, Mifflin County, inside the Tuscarora State Forest. The ranger found four gardens containing approximately 150 plants, each about five feet tall. State police eradicated the site and deployed cameras in the area around the grow site. The cameras took two photos that showed a man in military-style clothing, but no arrests were made at the time.

In March and April of 2017, two similar grow sites were discovered along Licking Creek in Bratton Township. There were no plants present at either site, but large trees had been felled to accommodate possible garden sites. Rangers installed cameras in the area of both sites.

Another occupied grow site was found in the area on April 20. This time, members of the Pennsylvania Game Commission discovered felled trees, plant beds, potting soil, and other gardening materials. There was also a game camera installed at the site. Officers reviewed the camera’s memory card and found photos of a man in military-style clothing walking through the site on several occasions. Closeups of the man’s face and comparisons of his clothing revealed he was similar in appearance to the man in the 2015 photos.

On June 6, rangers say they installed more cameras on the grow site. While they were there, they discovered what appeared to be 200-300 marijuana plants growing in the plant beds. They collected one of the plants for evidence testing and left the site.

On June 23, footage from the cameras was reviewed, and a man was seen in the garden beds tending to the plants and the surrounding fences. Officers ran the license plate of a vehicle matching the one observed entering a parking area near the grow site at the same time the man in the photos was seen tending the plants. The vehicle, a maroon Chevrolet Colorado, was registered to Jeremy Leach.

On June 27, a contract herbicide sprayer discovered another grow site near the one found on June 6. He took rangers to the site on June 28, where they discovered three gardens filled with 200-300 plants that appeared to be marijuana.

On June 29, a search warrant was obtained for Jeremy Leach. Rangers and Pennsylvania State Police officers executed the warrant at Leach’s home. Upon entering, they found Jeremy and Erin Leach, who confirmed they were the home’s owners and occupants. A search of the residence and the area outside found a total of 60-65 marijuana plants, several shotguns, gardening supplies, digital scales and marijuana seedlings, according to the police arrest affidavit.

Jeremy Leach told police he was growing the marijuana, and said it was for his own personal use, according to an arrest affidavit. Erin Leach told police she was unaware of what was going on, the affidavit said.