Crime - Sacto 911

Defendants in 2017 Sacramento-area marijuana conspiracy case face new charges

A grand jury in Sacramento has added money laundering charges to six defendants charged in a 2017 international marijuana conspiracy case, the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office announced Friday.

In 2017, federal officers raided nine Sacramento-area homes and seized 7,750 marijuana plants. Nine people were charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute controlled substances, manufacturing and possessing controlled substances with intent to distribute, and maintaining a place for the manufacture and distribution of controlled substances.

According to a news release, money laundering charges were added Thursday against six people: You An Li, 53, of Texas; Kong Liang Li, 53, of Texas; Xiu Ping Li, 42, of New Jersey; Xiu Ru Li, 46, of Sacramento; Dao Zhong Wei, 50, of Sacramento; and Shui Ping Zheng, 56, of Michigan.

The suspects conspired to wire transfer about $870,000 from China to buy six houses in Sacramento and Placer counties for growing marijuana or to pay off lenders to allow them to continue growing marijuana in the house, the release said.

The maximum penalty for money laundering is 20 years in prison and a fine up to $500,000 and/or twice the value of the money involved. The investigation was conducted by IRS Criminal Investigation, FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations.

The investigation began in October 2016, when DEA Special Agent Alicia Ramirez learned that three different Sacramento-area homes owned by suspect Xiu Ping Li “were consuming an unusually high amount of electrical power per month, indicating that the residences were probably being used to manufacture marijuana,” according to an affidavit filed in federal court, the Bee reported.

After an in-depth probe involving SMUD investigators, surveillance and other searches, the raid of nine houses from Roseville to Elk Grove was conducted July 26, 2017.

On Aug. 10, 2017, a grand jury indicted the original nine suspects and one other person for various counts related to marijuana, conspiracy and money laundering.

Sacramento city officials estimated that there may be 1,000 illegal growing operations within city limits, the Bee reported in 2017. Federal agents swept across the region in 2018 and seized 100 homes, which represented “one of the largest residential forfeiture efforts in the nation’s history,” the U.S. Justice Department said.

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Jaimie Ding, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee with an interest in politics and international relations. She grew up in Vancouver, Washington.