Smithtown public safety officials are searching for a suspect whose alleged accomplice was captured during a raid of a marijuana farm in a Commack sump.
Mark Kern, 54, of 60 Juniper Rd., Kings Park, was arrested at 10:22 p.m. Wednesday as officials said he and another person arrived with supplies to tend about 100 7- to 10-foot-tall plants in the secluded recharge basin.
Kern was charged with criminal possession of marijuana, a felony, and two misdemeanors, criminal trespass and resisting arrest. He pleaded not guilty Thursday in Suffolk County First District Court in Central Islip, and was released after posting $5,000 cash or $15,000 bond bail. His next court date is Oct. 2.
Kern's attorney, Smithtown-based Vincent J. Trimarco Jr., said the father of three is a "good man" who was innocent and has no prior convictions. "He said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Trimarco said. "Absolutely nothing to do with any of this."
Trimarco said he did not know what Kern was doing at the sump. Kern would not answer questions about the charges upon his release.
The arrest resulted from Operation Green Thumb, a four-month surveillance of the sump at Motor Parkway and Redleaf Lane by the town, Suffolk County Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Kevin McPadden, deputy chief of the Smithtown public safety department.
McPadden said highway workers discovered the farm in early May, and authorities installed and camouflaged fixed camera surveillance inside the basin, which the suspects accessed through holes cut in the fence.
"They had headgear lamps on their heads, and they would come in with what we describe as fertilizer and water and would tend to . . . a 30-foot by 40-foot terraced marijuana farm," McPadden said.
The suspects would visit the site, about 30 feet from Motor Parkway, in a heavily wooded area, one to two times per week, McPadden said.
During Kern's arraignment, prosecutor Brandon Draper said Kern was found with more than 8 ounces of marijuana and that he had refused to put his hands behind his back when police tried to arrest him. His accomplice fled on foot when authorities closed in, McPadden said.
The marijuana plants were taken Thursday to a Suffolk police facility in Yaphank to be weighed and stored, said McPadden. The street value was not immediately determined.
The investigation is ongoing to find out if any other locations or people are involved, said McPadden, who described the discovery as "certainly an isolated and unusual incident."
"Public safety department and Smithtown highway department personnel," he said, are "presently going to the sumps and are visually inspecting the area to determine whether there are any breaches."
Yusuf Caglayan, 46, whose backyard abuts the sump, said he was standing on his back deck and saw officials with flashlights looking for someone. Caglayan said he has not heard irregular activity in the sump area. "I can't believe this," he said. "This is a nice area."
Caglayan said he was not nervous about his family-oriented neighborhood, but added that he may install an exterior camera system, saying "what [else] can I do?"
McPadden said that a recharge basin would be a "classic location" for growing marijuana "based on its location, the fact that it's an isolated area, that it's overgrown, and that it's protected by fencing."
"I think what concerns us . . . it's also the type of location where children . . . -- teenagers -- would hang out," he said. "So we have to be vigilant in our inspection of these type of places."
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said he had never heard of a marijuana farm growing in a town sump.
"I think it's an enterprising individual or individuals who found a very unique plot of earth to cultivate a banned substance," said Vecchio. "Crime doesn't pay, and those who did this will be found out. I congratulate our public safety department for uncovering the plot."