MIAMI, June 7 (UPI) -- Miami-Dade law enforcement shut down a massive eight-year marijuana growing operation allegedly run by the Santiesteban family, police said.
Police charged six family members and 10 others Tuesday with conspiracy to distribute drugs, the U.S. attorney's office said in a press release.
"This was a very well-organized criminal network that operated here for a very long time," Assistant U.S. Attorney William Athas said during a court appearance Wednesday.
Prosecutors accused Gilberto Santiesteban Sr., Alexander Santiesteban, Derrick Santiesteban, Darvis Santiesteban , Gilberto Santiesteban Jr. and Yadira Santiesteban of setting up a network of homes, hiring caretakers, and cultivating, packaging and transporting massive amounts of marijuana in rented cars to New York and New Jersey. Darvis Santiesteban, along with another suspect, John VIllalonga, remains at large.
The 10 others charged include caretakers and a man who cooked for the laborers.
"They operated under the radar for a long time," Athas said of the alleged operation, which began in 2004.
The family came under investigation in 2009 when four men disguised as police entered the home and made off with 30 to 40 marijuana plants. Gilberto Jr. allegedly followed one of the men to his home, attacked and killed him. He, Derrick and Yadira allegedly helped to destroy the evidence and disposed of the body with the help of Juan Felipe Castsneda and Norge Manduley
Castsneda also is still at large.
If convicted, the five could face the death penalty, the press release said.
Prosecutors argued most of the family is a flight risk and a danger to the community, and thus should not be released on bond.