UPDATE: Seven Charged in Alleged Marijuana Operation at Rockford Warehouse

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UPDATE: Three more people have been charged in connection to an alleged marijuana growing operation at a Rockford warehouse that burned down earlier this year.

The U.S. Department of Justice says a new indictment charges seven people, six men and a woman, with conspiring to manufacture, possess, and distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants at a Rockford warehouse that burned down

The indictment alleges that between January 2, 2013 and January 6, 2015, five people from the Chicago area, one from Alaska, and one from Montana grew and stored marijuana in the Asher Tool building on South 11th Street. The warehouse was destroyed by a fire on January 6. It ranks as one of the largest Rockford fires ever and firemen were on the scene for days dousing the flames. Investigators are not saying if the suspects had anything to do with the fire.

The new indictment names 47-year-old Shlimon Shimon of Chicago, 28-year-old Casey Williams of Great Falls, Montana, and Destiny Freeman of Palmer, Alaska. Arrest warrants have been issued for them and we're told they are still at large.

51-year-old George Bacus of Niles, 37-year-old Jeremiah Clement of Des Plaines, 62-year-old Yousif Pira of Chicago, and 33-year-old Justin Paglusch of Ingleside had previously been charged in April. Clement, Bacus, and Pira were arrested in April and an arrest warrant for Paglusch was also issued in April. Paglusch is still at large according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The ATF is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to Paglusch's arrest. If you have any information, please call 1-888-ATF-TIPS or 1-888-283-8477.

The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine.


UPDATE: Two Chicago-area men have been arrested for conspiring to manufacture 1,000 or more marijuana plants in a Rockford warehouse that burned down earlier this year.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 51-year-old George Bacus of Niles and 37-year-old Jeremiah Clement of Des Plaines were indicted by a grand jury Tuesday.

Also charged in the indictment are 62-year-old Yousif Pira of Chicago and 33-year-old Justin Paglusch of Ingleside.

The indictment alleges that between January 2, 2013 and January 6, 2015, the defendants conspired to illegally grow and store marijuana in a warehouse in the 1900 block of 11th Street. According to the indictment, Bacus initially contracted to buy the warehouse on January 2, 2013. The indictment alleges that Clement later entered into a lease with an option to buy the warehouse. It was destroyed by a fire on January 6.

Bacus is scheduled to appear in federal court in Rockford at 3 p.m. Clement is scheduled to appear in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut, at 1:30 p.m. Arrest warrants for Pira and Paglusch were issued on April 21. Both are still at large.

The charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison and a $10 million fine.


UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Rockford Fire investigators say the sprinkler system at the old Asher Tool plant was turned off prior to the fire that destroyed the structure earlier this month.

Now they're trying to figure out when and who did it.

Those same investigators were back at the scene of one of the city’s largest fires trying to figure out what started it and if there was illegal activity going on there.

This afternoon, dogs were searching through the burnt rubble at the old Asher Tool building on 11th Street. They were looking for any possible victims of the fire because reports say people were coming in and out of the building before the fire started. Fire investigators say they’re looking for any evidence that can help them determine how the fire started and they’re investigating if the building was being used to illegally grow marijuana.

“We don’t have all those puzzle pieces, so we’re not sure what the puzzle looks like until we’re complete with our investigation. As part of those, that’s our interviews that we go through, that’s by here, today and tomorrow, going through all the debris, going through and putting those parts together,” said Rockford Fire Department Division Chief Matt Knott.

Fire investigators say they have theories of what might have started the fire but won’t release them at this point. They want to prove those theories first.


UPDATE: Sections of the former Asher Tool Plant are coming down after one of the largest fires in Rockford history.

Today, crews tore down the south and east walls of the building on 11th Street. A full demolition won’t happen until the city figures out how much that will cost. Investigators are trying to determine whether a marijuana growing operation was inside. Investigators say they’ll conduct a full investigation next week.


UPDATE: Sections of the Asher Tool building on 11th Street are still standing despite the intense inferno last week and it’s unclear how soon the rest of the building will come down.

Fire crews were back on the site today, hauling away more debris. Heavy machinery will be back later this week to take down the south and east walls. Inspectors want to demolish what’s left of the building but they’re still figuring out how much that will cost. The building is fenced off for safety. Investigators are still looking into whether the building was being used to grow marijuana.


UPDATE:UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- As Rockford fire investigators continue to try to piece together how the abandoned former Asher Tool factory on 11th Street burned down, police say they believe the building may have been used as a site to illegally grow marijuana.

Even though police say they’ve been monitoring the building for weeks for any potential illegal activity, the Fire Department says their investigator is going to treat this like any other fire. They’re going to tear down the walls that pose a risk of collapsing and then bulldoze their way inside of the building and dig through the debris to see what they can find to determine what caused the fire and if there’s anything else inside.

County investigators say it may be too hard to tel if any plants were being grown inside because they would have been destroyed by the fire and water. The only way to prove any illegal activity at this point is to find tools or equipment that could be used to grow anything. Of course, the Fire Department says it would be speculative to say that they will find anything and they’d rather go through the building and see what they find.

Fire investigators say they’ll return to the building and continue their investigation when there is daylight.


UPDATE: Parts of 11th Street in Rockford remain blocked off as crews try to put out a massive fire they've been battling for more than half a day.

Day two of this warehouse fire looks much different than Tuesday morning. Flames have settled and despite the smoke in the air, there's no firetruck in sight.

"The issue we face with the cold weather and with our aparatus and with the water, in the tanks and in the piping, we have the potential for freezing so we're just trying to reduce those hazards," said Matt Knott, division chief with the Rockford Fire Department.

The building is still burning so fire investigators cannot get inside, however crews have been walking the permiter looking for clues.

"Things that might indicate cause or the path of the fire after it started, things that might indicate what type of fire we're dealing with, if it's accidental, incendiary, etc," said fire investigator Michael Schnaper.

Investigators believe it will be days before they get inside, and when they do, they'll be a little more prepared with the help of a drone.

"We want to limit the search to the areas of value, as opposed to just casting a wide net that would take forever, and not very safe," said Schnaper.

With detailed video from the drone, investigators will also be able to see the best way to get inside.

As we've mentioned, the building to the south also caught fire. The fire department says the same guy owns both buildings and was cited in the past for the south side building. They say there were major cracks and holes in the roof.

It is now safe for the seven adults who were staying at the Sunset Motel two doors down, to move back into the facility. The fire department says it checked all the rooms for carbon monoxide and everything is okay.


Massive flames started the day out for more than a hundred Rockford firefighters. The former Asher Tool building that sits at 18th Avenue and 11th Street caught fire around 1:30 in the morning. Nearly 12 hours later, thick smoke fills the air and the building still burns, as well as the structure next door, which contractors tore down.

Battling the fire in dangerously cold conditions is another obstacle.

"We have a rehab bus on scene so we try to cycle our crews through systematically give them a break, get them warmed up, get them some hot drinks and some warm food and hopefully take care of the human needs," said District Chief James Rife with Rockford Fire.

Zach Borgetti owner of Speedy-Courier said managing their business without power was a struggle.

"We forwarded all seven lines to our cell phones, so basically it was a group of us huddled under a blanket with iPhones. Then of course the phones died and we had nothing to plug them into so then we were all dispatching out of our cars," said Borgetti.

Heat from the flames also damaged the siding of Borgetti's building. What seems like a never-ending fire, is one of the largest fires Rockford has ever seen. Fire leaders say this is the second largest fire in Rockford's history, the largest happening in 1984 when it took four days to put the flames out at the Midway Theatre.

One firefighter suffered minor injuries after slipping on ice. There's still no word on the cause but they the fire department is interviewing people because a witness thought they may have seen someone inside.

The Red Cross is also helping out 10 people who were evacuated from the Sunset Motel, near the Asher Tools Building as a precaution.


ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Firefighters in Rockford battle a massive fire at a warehouse on 11th Street.

Fire crews say they were called to the Asher Tool building around 1:30am Tuesday morning. The fire was engulfed and firefighters couldn't go inside to tackle the flames. Engines have been dumping water from all four sides of the building. The roof has collapsed, as have some of the exterior walls and floors. Investigators haven't been able to get inside to determine a cause. They think part of the build may have been used for storage. Ten people staying at a nearby hotel were evacuated and the Red Cross is helping find them a new place to stay. Roads around the building are closed for the next few hours.

Around 40 firefighters have been rotating in and out to battle the fire. AN RMTD bus is on scene to keep the crews warm. One firefighter sustained minor injuries.



 
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