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Public safety: Marijuana grower ran a large, but quiet, operation in a quiet neighborhood

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

There was only one complaint about David Mallinson in the five years he lived in Litchfield Country Club: a neighbor told the homeowners association his yard was unkempt.

One afternoon last week, police arrived at his one-story brick home at 754 Crooked Oak Dr. with another complaint. They seized 86 marijuana plants valued at $275,000.

In the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood, Mallinson, 39, has been quietly growing marijuana for years, according to the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit. He was arrested Jan. 31 on the charge of “manufacturing marijuana,” police said. He was released on bail two days later, according to court records.

“He was doing this for a long time,” said Matt Hooper, deputy commander of the drug unit. “He’s never been arrested. He’s just floated by.”

Mallinson’s arrest followed anonymous tips to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office and Georgetown City Police. The drug unit is made up of officers from jurisdictions within Georgetown and Horry counties and funded by a grant from the state Department of Public Safety.

Members of the drug unit showed up at Mallinson’s house on a Tuesday afternoon. There was only one marked patrol car, and no drama. “He was very cooperative,” Hooper said.

Cliff Damaska, who lives next door to Mallinson, didn’t learn about the arrest until he read a brief item in the newspaper. “I never saw a thing,” he said.

Jerry Oakley, a Georgetown County Council member, lives on the other side of Mallinson. He learned of the operation when a deputy came to his door before the raid.

“It might have been the biggest shock of my life,” said Oakley.

He and Damaska both described Mallinson as a quiet neighbor whom they saw in passing, but never spoke to.

“I really hardly knew the guy,” said Damaska, who has taken some ribbing from his golf buddies.

“Just a quiet neighbor who kept to himself,” Oakley said. “It was a shocker.”

“He wasn’t somebody neighbors would necessarily suspect,” said Hooper.

That’s the whole idea when growing marijuana, he explained. “Those neighborhoods are popular for that.”

Since Mallinson’s arrest, Damaska and Oakley said they have wondered if there were things that should have tipped them off.

In hindsight, Damaska realized that the blinds on a room at the back of Mallinson’s house had never been opened.

Hooper said Mallinson had two bedrooms in the house set up for marijuana growing. One was a nursery and the other held the grown plants.

“They were full-budded plants,” he said. “They are at the peak of their growth and they were being harvested at the time.”

Officers also seized 10 ounces of processed marijuana valued at $8,550, Hooper said.

There was a reason the blinds never opened. Blankets, sheets and towels were nailed up over some windows, Hooper said.

In the rooms where the plants grew there were holes cut in the ceilings to fit what Hooper called “industrial” duct work to vent the heat and the smell from the rooms into the attic crawlspace.

The heat was generated by ultraviolet plant lights. There were also pH monitors with alarms to warn of any imbalance and tanks of carbon dioxide to promote plant growth.

“He had several hundred thousand dollars just in the equipment,” Hooper said. “He had a very nice operation.”

And he had a monthly electric bill “that was off the charts,” he added.

Hooper said police believe Mallinson sold marijuana to 20 to 40 people in a one-man operation, which is why they announced his arrest.

“He wasn’t a major organization,” Hooper said.

Aside from being illegal, marijuana growers pose some other dangers, he said. The combination of chemicals and improvised wiring creates “extremely big fire hazards.”

There is also the threat from competitors and criminals lured by the money that is usually kept by growers. “It’s very competitive. It’s very dangerous,” Hooper said.

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