Crime - Sacto 911

Alleged marijuana growers accused of trying to bribe Siskiyou County sheriff

Two alleged marijuana growers are accused of attempting to bribe the Siskiyou County sheriff.

Chi Meng Yang, 31, of Montague, and his sister, Gaosheng Laitinen, 36, of Mount Shasta View, were charged Thursday in federal court in Sacramento with conspiring to commit bribery, bribery of a public official, conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

Yang met with Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey in Yreka on May 17 and offered him $1 million in exchange for his assistance with an interstate marijuana distribution business that Yang and others were organizing, according to the criminal complaint. Yang allegedly explained that he represented himself and several families who were cultivating marijuana in the county.

Following the meeting, Sheriff Lopey immediately contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, and federal agents asked the sheriff to continue meeting with Yang, the news release said.

Working with the FBI and DEA, the sheriff contacted Yang and indicated he was willing to work with Yang and the marijuana growers he represented. Subsequent meetings were audio and video recorded by the FBI.

Laitinen attended some of the meetings, and during those meetings she and Yang talked with the sheriff about how he could assist them, the news release said. Because the $1 million offer was contingent on Yang securing and profiting from certain out-of-state marijuana licenses, he and Laitinen promised the sheriff a total of $80,000 if he would exempt eight properties from the Siskiyou County ban on marijuana grows and protect the properties from law enforcement raids.

Yang and Laitinen gave the sheriff several initial payments, totaling $10,500 in cash, the news release said. Those funds were turned over to the FBI as evidence.

Yang was arrested Thursday and is to make his first court appearance in Sacramento on Friday. If convicted of the charges in the complaint, Yang and Laitinen would face maximum penalties of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge; 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the bribery charge; and a minimum of five years and up to 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine for the drug charges, the news release said.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy