Green Tree Woman Led Cross-Country Hydroponic Marijuana Distribution Ring
Wholesale Value of Marijuana Exceeded $16 Million
PITTSBURGH – The leader of a cross-country drug ring pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court to charges of conspiracy to violate the federal drug and money laundering laws, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
Jennifer Chau Chieu, 37, of Green Tree, Pa., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) or more of high-quality hydroponic marijuana, and conspiracy to launder drug proceeds before United States District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that Chieu moved to Pennsylvania in 2010, and by October of that year was in the drug business, using her old contacts to ship her 10-20 pound packages of high-quality marijuana from California on a daily basis. Chieu then resold the marijuana for $2,400-$4,600 a pound, depending on quality, to a small network of dealers.
United States Postal Inspectors eventually identified more than 250 inbound drug packages, and in excess of 350 outbound parcels containing drug proceeds, with $12,000-$20,000 in each package. The total wholesale value of the marijuana was as much as $16 million, with the retail value being several multiples of that.
Postal inspectors and IRS and FBI special agents observed Chieu making deals out of her Green Tree home and a nail salon she owned on Liberty Avenue in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh.
Between January and April 2011, postal inspectors served nine search warrants on outgoing parcels suspected to contain drug proceeds. Each of the parcels contained between $12,000 and $20,000 in cash, with the total exceeding $143,000.
Wiretaps were approved for Chieu’s phones and several others between June and October 2011. Chieu and her co-conspirators spoke four languages on the wiretaps – Vietnamese, English, and two Chinese dialects - often switching languages in mid-sentence in an obvious attempt to hamper law enforcement agents and interpreters who might be listening.
More than a hundred hours of calls were intercepted between Chieu and her primary Oakland, Calif., drug supplier. On a daily basis, Chieu and her conspirator discussed how much marijuana he would be sending, the quality or “brand name” of the product, and how much Chieu would charge for it here and how many packages of cash she planned to send to California the next day.
About 3500 pounds of marijuana were distributed in the conspiracy. Large seizures of cash demonstrated the broad scope of this drug ring. In April 2012, Chieu and a conspirator were stopped in Utah for a traffic violation. Hidden within their car was more than one-half million dollars in cash. Both individuals refused to claim the cash, with Chieu telling officers she didn’t know how it got there.
Following the indictment of Chieu and 19 other individuals, Chieu was arrested in April 2012, at which time more than $70,000 was seized from her Green Tree home, and $100,000 from a safe deposit box. Another seizure in 2011 of drug proceeds from a van leaving Pittsburgh for California turned up $136,000 in cash. About a million dollars in cash was seized in this investigation, with homes and cars also seized for forfeiture to the government.
Eight of the 20 indicted individuals have now entered pleas of guilty and await sentencing, with six more defendants scheduled to plead guilty later this week.
On motion of the government, Jennifer Chieu’s bond was revoked and she was ordered detained pending sentencing on July 1, 2014. The law provides for a total sentence of not less than 10 years to life in prison, a fine of $10,500,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Assistant United States Attorney Gregory J. Nescott is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were the lead agencies in this case, and were assisted by the Pennsylvania State Police in this investigation that led that led to the prosecution of Jennifer Chau Chieu.
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