Being home to the state's largest university helps make Douglas County attractive to marijuana growers, according to state law enforcement officials.
"We do seem to have more than our fair share of marijuana-growing operations in the general area" of Douglas and Jefferson counties, said Kyle Smith, spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. "It's a target-rich environment."
Details about one Lawrence drug operation became public Thursday.
A Lawrence man pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring and growing hundreds of marijuana plants during five months in 2003 in an Osage County field and storing them in a Lawrence home for distribution.
Justin P. Penka, 26, reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.
University Relations of Kansas University on Thursday said records showed a Justin Peter Penka graduated with a bachelor's degree in fine arts during the summer of 2003.
Penka turned himself in to authorities on March 4, 2005, after a grand jury indicted him Feb. 23, 2005.
Penka admitted in the plea agreement that the conspiracy involved growing marijuana in a wooded area about five miles northeast of Melvern.
Law enforcement officers videotaped activities in the field between Aug. 20, 2003, and Sept. 22, 2003. The video footage showed Penka and another man tending the plants.
Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the two men named in Penka's indictment have not been indicted.
After the marijuana plants were grown, cultivated plants were then stored in the basement of Penka's residence at 1618 Ky. The Lawrence residence also was used for growing marijuana indoors since August 2002.
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Highway Patrol investigated the case. Officers seized 51 plants in the Osage County field, 86 plants from the residence and more than 500 grams of processed marijuana.
According to details of the plea agreement, the marijuana was processed and sold for prices that generated $350 to $400 profit per ounce.
Smith, the KBI spokesman, deferred comments on the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office, but he said investigators generally used airplanes and other surveillance to discover outdoor marijuana fields.
Smith said he had no specific data, but cited the large population of university students in Lawrence as an apparent factor in the disproportionate amount of cultivated marijuana seized in the area.
"We've always had a large marijuana growing problem in the Douglas County and Jefferson County area. Probably more so than the rest of the state," he said.
The KBI's marijuana eradication statistics show law enforcement raids in Douglas County have netted 164 indoor marijuana plants in 2005 and only 180 in the rest of the state that year.
In 2004, they recovered 211 indoor plants in Douglas County and 601 in the rest of the state.
No outdoor plants were recovered in Douglas County in either 2004 or 2005. KBI statistics show that 55 total outdoor marijuana plants were seized in Douglas County in 2003 and 365 in 2002.
Penka will be sentenced at 9 a.m. on June 12. He faces a possible sentence of between five and 40 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $2 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.