His school backpack smelled like pot. That put his parents in jail, cops say

A school backpack led to a Hialeah police raid on a small marijuana grow house run by parents of two children.

Police say the older child, the 11-year-old, unwittingly gave his parents up on Monday — the growing facility, the selling, the use of the backpack, the whole operation.

Those parents, 41-year-old Rolando Naranjo and 33-year-old Betsy Espinoza, remain in county jail. Each faces charges of marijuana trafficking; possession of marijuana with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school; possession of a place for trafficking purposes; possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to use; two counts each (one for each child) of possession of a place for manufacturing a controlled substance with a minor present; and child neglect with no great bodily harm. Naranjo’s bond is $36,000. Espinoza’s bond is $51,000.

Espinoza did 21 months in state prison from 2002-03 on a robbery charge. Naranjo’s past includes convictions for burglary, grand theft, marijuana possession and habitually driving without a license.

“We didn't know anything about it. They were squatting in the apartment,” Hialeah Sgt. Carl Zogby said. “It was discovered as a fluke.”

Hialeah cops say a Palm Springs Middle School teacher noticed a strong smell of cannabis coming from the 11-year-old’s backpack. He informed a Miami-Dade Schools police officer who called in a Hialeah officer. They questioned the boy about the backpack.

“Student (last name redacted) stated he does not have any marijuana in his backpack, but his dad uses his backpack sometimes to transport marijuana,” the incident report reads. “Student stated that his dad, Mr. Rolando, has a room in his house at 5825 W. 25th Ct., Apt. 112, with approximately 10 plants of marijuana. The boy said he didn’t have any marijuana in his backpack. Student stated that at this location also lives his mom, Ms. Espinoza, and his 4-year-old brother.

“Also (name redacted) stated that a lot of people go to his house and Mr. Naranjo sells people marijuana for money.”

That’s enough for a search warrant. The arrest reports say that when cops burst in, Naranjo and Espinoza were there with their 4-year-old child. They’d converted one of the bedrooms into a hydroponic growth room with two high wattage lamps with transformers. Also in the house: 10 plants, weighing 31 pounds; two digital scales; three glass pipes; four small bags of marijuana; and two heat seal vacuum machines used to package marijuana in large amounts.

While police say they found the accoutrements of a drug business, they didn’t find elements for healthy child raising. Zogby said the living condition in the apartment was “deplorable, dirty, nasty,” with a paucity of food (one carrot, a can of jelly, etc.).

Zogby said the family had been tossed from another apartment at the complex and began squatting at this apartment. The landlord was in the process of trying to evict them.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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