Alleged Marijuana Growers in Siskiyou County Charged for Conspiring to Bribe Sheriff
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Chi Meng Yang, 31, of Montague, and his sister Gaosheng Laitinen, 36, of Mt. Shasta Vista, were charged today for conspiring to commit bribery, bribery of a public official, conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, and manufacturing marijuana, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
According to the criminal complaint, on May 17, 2017, Yang met with Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey in Yreka. During the meeting, Yang offered $1 million to the Sheriff in exchange for his assistance with an interstate marijuana distribution business that Yang and others were in the process of organizing. Yang explained his role to be that of a representative for several families, himself included, that were currently cultivating marijuana in Siskiyou County. After the meeting, the Sheriff immediately reported it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal agents asked the Sheriff to continue meeting with Yang.
At the request of, and in conjunction with the FBI and DEA, the Sheriff contacted Yang and indicated a willingness to work with him and the marijuana growers he represented. The subsequent meetings were audio and video recorded by the FBI. Laitinen attended some of those meetings. During those meetings, Yang and Laitinen talked with the Sheriff about how he could assist them. Because Yang’s offer of $1 million was contingent on Yang securing and profiting from certain out-of-state marijuana licenses, Yang and Laitinen promised to pay the Sheriff a total of $80,000 if he would exempt eight properties from the Siskiyou County ban against outdoor marijuana grows. They sought protection from raids or other law enforcement actions on these eight properties where outdoor marijuana was being grown. In furtherance of this plan, Yang and Laitinen gave the Sheriff several initial payments, totaling $10,500 in cash. These funds were immediately turned over to the FBI as evidence.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Forest Service (USFS), North State Marijuana Investigation Team (NSMIT), Tehama Interagency Drug Enforcement (TIDE), Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force (SINTF), Siskiyou Unified Major Investigations Team (SUMIT), and California Highway Patrol (CHP). Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael M. Beckwith is prosecuting the case.
Yang was arrested today and is scheduled to make an initial court appearance on September 1, 2017, in Sacramento. If convicted of the charges in the complaint, Yang and Laitinen face the following maximum statutory penalties: (1) five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge; (2) 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the bribery charge; and (3) a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine for the drug charges. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.
The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.