A former Osceola County fire chief is facing charges of running a million-dollar marijuana-production operation from a house near Holopaw in rural southeast Osceola.
A tip led deputies to a house owned by former Fire Chief Jeffrey Ray Hall, 42, who now lives in Melbourne.
Hall's partner in the operation told investigators the two were taking in $15,000 a month by growing and selling an especially potent variety of pot known as "crippy," which fetches a higher street value, the Osceola Sheriff's Office said.
The sheriff's community-response team found 460 marijuana plants, 18 pounds of pot and several grow rooms with watering and high-tech lighting systems in the house, sheriff's spokeswoman Twis Lizasuain said.
A $23,000 generator ran the lighting and sprinkler system, she said.
Officials said the evidence seized had a value of $1 million -- partly because of the price that "crippy" marijuana, with its high content of THC -- the chemical component that creates the "high" -- fetches on the street. The variety is known on the Internet as the most potent available in Florida.
Hall was arrested Saturday on charges of trafficking in cannabis, manufacturing cannabis and possession with intent to sell. He was released from the Osceola County Jail on Sunday morning on a $50,000 bond.
He could not be reached for comment.
Lizasuain said Hall admitted to profiting from the operation but not to selling drugs.
Hall was a high-profile public official during a tenure that included massive wildfires and devastating tornadoes. He stepped down in 1999 after six years as fire chief and later left the department.
Deputies received a tip about the pot-growing operation and followed Hall's accomplice's pickup as he left the property on Broadstream Drive, authorities said. The accomplice told deputies that Hall owned the mobile home, and that the pair started the operation when both were firefighters in 2001.
Officials expect to charge the accomplice early this week, Lizasuain said.
Hall requested a demotion in 1999 after two other fire officials were demoted to cut costs in Osceola County. As chief, he made $55,000 a year and said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
"I do not want to make the same mistakes I have made in the past," Hall wrote in his request for demotion. "My family is very important to me, and my job has prevented me spending the quality time with them that they deserve."
Hall's father was a volunteer firefighter in Kentucky.
When Hall became head of public safety in 1993, he was the youngest person to do so in county history and the first to be both fire chief and the head of emergency management.
Hall got his start when he joined the Fire Department reserve team in Orange County at 14. By 1983, he became a St. Cloud firefighter.
Christopher Sherman of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Erin Cox can be reached at 352-742-5926.