Alleged Marijuana Growers in Siskiyou County Indicted for Conspiring to Bribe Sheriff
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a four-count indictment today against Chi Meng Yang, 31, of Montague, and his sister Gaosheng Laitinen, 36, of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, charging them with conspiring to commit bribery, bribery of a public official, conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, and manufacturing marijuana, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
Yang and Laitinen will be arraigned on the indictment on Friday, September 15, 2017, in Sacramento at 2:00 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes. Future court dates will be set at that hearing.
According to court documents, 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 in Siskiyou County. Immediately after the meeting, the Sheriff reported it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal agents asked the Sheriff to continue meeting with Yang.
The subsequent meetings were audio and video recorded by the FBI and Laitinen attended some of those meetings. Because Yang’s offer of $1 million depended 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. Yang and Laitinen gave the Sheriff several initial payments, totaling $10,500 in cash. These funds were immediately seized by the FBI as evidence.
This case is a 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 Investigations Team (NSMIT), Tehama Inter-agency Drug Enforcement (TIDE), Shasta Inter-agency 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.
If convicted of the charges in the indictment, Yang and Laitinen face the following maximum 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 each of 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 against Yang and Laitinen are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.