Three men were arrested as part of an illegal cannabis growing operation in California that was funded with money from China.
Authorities seized nearly 200 pounds of cannabis and about 3,000 plants during raids on seven houses in San Bernardino County, California. The houses were purchased using millions of dollars wired from China. Prosecutors said they also seized more than $80,000 and guns from the home of Lin Li, a real estate agent and alleged coordinator of the scheme. Also arrested were Ben Chen, who allegedly tended to the cannabis plants, and Jimmy Yu, who allegedly helped as a caretaker.
The three men were all charged with one federal count of manufacturing, distributing and possessing with the intent to distribute cannabis. The raid marks the end of a 14-month investigation by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department who worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Prosecutors said the cannabis was being sold in California and Nevada.
The case is the latest incident where a black market cannabis grow is backed by overseas money in states with legal recreational cannabis. Last April, agents seized around 100 houses in Northern California that were purchased by a Chinese-based crime organization and used to grow cannabis illegally. California still has a robust illicit market, with nearly one in five cannabis purchases being from an illicit marketplace.
“In states that have decriminalized marijuana, we have seen an influx of foreign money used to establish grow operations, with much of the marijuana being destined for out-of-state consumers,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said.
The seven homes were purchased from July 2013 to September 2017 and worth more than $4 million total. In relation to the charges, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has begun the process to forfeit the seven homes where cannabis was growing.