Authorities have arrested California woman Lisette Lee, 28, who arrived in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday aboard a private jet carrying 506 pounds of marijuana packed into 13 suitcases. Lee, who falsely claimed to be an heiress to the Samsung Electronics fortune, says she was paid $60,000 by a "friend" to escort the load, which is valued at over $500,000, but denies any further knowledge. (Watch a local report about the 500-pound drug seizure.) Though substantial, the authorities' score does not rate among the biggest marijuana raids in U.S. history. Here, five standouts:
1. School daze
In March, 2007, law enforcement authorities in Houston, TX, seized more than 19,000 pounds of marijuana stored inside two yellow school buses in a remote area Southwest of the city. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents believed the massive cache, which had an estimate street value of $13 million, was part of a Mexican drug-smuggling operation.
2. High seas
One hundred and fifty miles off the coast of San Diego, a U.S. Coast Guard unit discovered 26,000 pounds of pot aboard the 63-foot yacht Arrakis in November, 1984 — reportedly the largest West Coast bust to date. "Boy, are you guys in for a big surprise," Arrakis passenger Phillip Kashnig reportedly declared as Coast Guard officers boarded the yacht. When asked why, Kashnig replied witlessly, "Because this boat is loaded with marijuana."
3. Ring of firearms and narcotics
In a "significant blow" to the Mexico-based "Victor Emillio Cazares-Gastellum" drug trafficking ring, U.S. authorities seized 27,229 pounds of marijuana, as well as 9,512 pounds of cocaine, 705 pounds of methamphetamine, 11 pounds of heroin and approximately $45.2 million dollars. The 2007 bust, dubbed "Operation Imperial Emperor," led to the arrest of more than 400 members of the cartel and the confiscation of $6 million in property assets, 100 weapons and 94 vehicles.
4. Northern light-ups
Federal drug agents captured 50,000 pounds of marijuana stashed into a "nondescript" Queens, NY, home in 2009 as part of a crackdown on a Canadian drug-smuggling operation. "These guys were doing it very big," an officer familiar with the case told the New York Daily News. "The street value of what we seized is $150 million." The marijuana was originally grown in hydroponic farms inside British Columbia homes then driven east and smuggled across the border inside cars with secret compartments. Ten people were arrested.
5. The billion dollar bust
In July 2009, law enforcement authorities confiscated at least 330,000 marijuana plants — worth a staggering $1 billion — from fields in Fresno County, CA. "Operation Save Our Sierra" lasted more than a week and a half, and resulted in the arrest of 82 suspects with links to Mexican drug cartels. "Fresno County is roughly the size of Connecticut, and the drug traffickers target these areas because they know there is not that significant of a law-enforcement presence," Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims told CNN. "The chances of getting caught are slim." Or, rather, were.