CALAVERAS COUNTY -- Guadelupe "Lupe" Arellano and Medarda Urbieta are in jail accused of kidnapping four men, holding them against their will and torturing them.
"The injured victims reported that they had been held hostage since February of 2016. And they were being beaten while forced to work at a large-scale marijuana cultivation site near the town of West Point," Sheriff's Capt. Jim Macedo said.
Calaveras County sheriff’s investigators say it all started after two of the men were picked up by Arellano near Modesto, under the guise of working on a landscaping project at a home.
But the men were eventually taken to the grow site where they were confronted by armed men. Their lives and their families’ lives were threatened if they didn't comply.
The suspects later went to one victim's home where detectives say they kidnapped two other relatives and forced them to work at the site.
After several months of hard labor,
"The victims overheard one male captor ask Lupe if they could kill the victims. Lupe reportedly responded 'no' because they were almost done with the marijuana harvest, and once they were done they would be allowed to kill the victims," Macedo said.
All four men escaped that night, and got help from someone along the way who contacted deputies.
Search warrants were served the next day.
"Over 23,000 marijuana plants were located with an estimated street value between $18 and $60 million," Macedo added.
The two women were arrested soon after, and investigators are anticipating more arrests.
"It's horrifying in our county, and this has opened the doors for much more crime than what's happening right this minute," landowner Gina Gonzales said.
Many landowners, including Gonzales, say the criminal problems surrounding marijuana cultivation have gotten worse with the recent passing of an ordinance allowing commercial grows in the county.
"It's been here for many, many years. I know the cartels have been here. But now it's coming forward and we're seeing the results of the cultivation of marijuana," Gonzales said.
The suspects face charges including human trafficking, kidnapping, felony battery and conspiracy.
Officials say the women are here illegally.