Raids on Multiple Illegal Grow Houses in Investigation of International Money Laundering and Interstate Marijuana Trafficking
Money from China Financing Criminal Drug Distribution Organization
Over the last few days investigators executed search warrants at 17 different Puget Sound area locations, and a commercial property in New Jersey, in connection with an internationally funded drug trafficking organization sending thousands of pounds of marijuana grown in Washington to the New York City area, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. One defendant, 37-year-old XIAMIN HUANG of Seattle, is in custody and her husband and his brother are being sought by law enforcement. All three are charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.
“The defendants are charged with growing thousands of pounds of marijuana in Western Washington and then shipping it to the East Coast to take advantage of black market prices,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L, Hayes. “As prosecutors made clear in court hearings today, hundreds of thousands of dollars have flowed in from China to pay for grow houses and the massive electric bills associated with them. In the meantime, the communities where these grow houses are located are dealing with a host of negative impacts including distortion of real estate markets with criminals making all cash payments at inflated prices.”
According to records filed in the case, in 2016 and 2017 investigators identified several homes in King and Pierce Counties being used for indoor marijuana production. The homes, such as one on S. 124th Street in Burien had unusually high electrical bills – as much as $2,500 in one two-month billing period. On another property, members of the conspiracy made cash payments of more than $37,000 for electricity in a three month period. On May 16, 2018, law enforcement served search warrants on locations in Seattle, Burien, Kent, Tacoma, and Renton. More than 3,000 marijuana plants were seized as well as business records and equipment associated with the marijuana trafficking.
At the detention hearing today, prosecutors revealed that some of the homes had been purchased with large wire transfers of funds from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The source of the money is still under investigation. An analysis of the email accounts and bank accounts utilized by the criminal group show efforts to structure cash deposits in order of avoid bank reporting requirements on suspicious transactions. HUANG was determined to be a flight risk and was detained pending trial.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.
The Investigation was led by DEA and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI). Significant investigative assistance was also provided by the Seattle Police Department and FBI.
The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Joe Silvio and Assistant United States Attorney Marie Dalton. Mr. Silvio is an attorney with Homeland Security Investigations, specially designated to prosecute cases in federal court.