TWELVE people were jailed after a court heard tales of human trafficking, forged passports and how those smuggled into the UK have to pay for for their one-way tickets.
They were caught during Operation Kinglake which was launched by Durham Police last October when a property was rented in a false name in Thirlmere Street, Ferryhill.
The trail led to Gateshead, South Tyneside and St Helen's Auckland, County Durham, where some of the illegal immigrants were living and storing their equipment.
Junction boxes, cables and connectors were found at the Walton Crescent property along with compost in a garage and more than £45,000 cash, said prosecutor John Gillette.
Links were made to addresses in Newcastle, Consett and nearby Tantobie as well as Croxdale, near Durham City, where drugs and equipment worth £53,000 was found.
Six men - An Nguyen, 30, Duong Pham, 40, Hieu Hoang, 32, Minh Tang, 28, Thang Nguyen, 25 and Tung Le, 22 - were jailed for between ten months and 18 months.
Four more men and two women were linked to further farms in Darlington and Shildon where more than half-a-million pounds worth of cannabis could have been grown.
They are Xuan Tran, 26, his girlfriend, An Ding, 31, Viet Pham, 27, his father-in-law Dai Phung, 56, Thuan Tran, 23, and the second female, 25-year-old Thin Pham.
Defence barristers told the court that they were recruited by others to carry out the drugs work to pay off as much as the £18,000 it has cost in fees to get trafficked into the UK.
Judge Peter Armstrong described the set-ups as professional and expensive after hearing how a farm at a house in Hilda Street, Darlington, had hundreds of plants and cuttings.
Police believe an annual yield of more than £250,000 could have been expected from the single factory, while they also discovered some in their early stages in Bedford Street and Pensbury Street.
Cannabis with a street value of more than £21,000 and £3,385 worth of equipment was also found in another rented house in the town's Yarm Road, said Mr Gillette.
Judge Armstrong praised detectives involved in the operation and said: "Clearly, each defendant was motivated by financial or other advantage having travelled no little distance to this country."
The defendants pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to produce Class B drugs and being concerned in the production of Class B drugs at earlier curt hearings.