Two SoCal Men Named in 19-Count Indictment Alleging Chinese Money Funded Inland Empire Marijuana Grow Houses
LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury today returned a 19-count felony indictment charging two men with participating in a scheme where nine residential homes in San Bernardino County were purchased, mostly with money wired from China, and then the homes were converted into illegal marijuana grow houses.
Lin Li, a.k.a. Aaron Li, 37, of Chino, the U.S.-based coordinator of the alleged scheme, and Jimmy Yu, 44, of Pasadena, an alleged grow house caretaker, have been charged with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute, and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and to maintain a drug-involved premises. Li and Yu are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on April 4 in United States District Court.
According to the indictment, unindicted co-conspirators wired millions of dollars from China to bank accounts controlled by Li, a real estate agent. Li allegedly then used straw buyers, shell companies, straw tenants, fake utility subscribers, and phony leases to disguise the properties’ illegal purpose of housing commercial marijuana grows.
For example, in relation to one of the homes, an affidavit filed with a criminal complaint in the case describes how a straw buyer purchased a Chino Hills residence for $782,000 in 2015. The straw buyer was named as chief executive officer of a Li-established limited liability company, and that LLC received a $1 million wire transfer from a Hong Kong-based investment group. The vast majority of the purchase price of the house was then wired from the LLC’s bank account, the affidavit states. Li allegedly received a commission check as the realtor for the sale and also served as the home’s property manager. In early 2018, a neighbor complained to law enforcement about the “overwhelming” smell of marijuana coming from the Chino Hills home and how no one seemed to live there, court papers state.
Li also has been charged with nine counts of knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute marijuana plants – 4,342 marijuana plants in total – and nine counts of knowingly maintaining a place for the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana. Yu faces five counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants and five counts of maintaining a place for the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana. Ben Chen, 42, of Alhambra, who also allegedly took care of the marijuana grows, is being charged separately. The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of eight properties – five in Chino, two in Chino Hills, and one in Ontario – that allegedly were used in the marijuana grow house scheme.
If convicted, each defendant faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is the result of a 14-month investigation initiated by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department which later was joined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Carley Palmer of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Section and Jonathan Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section.