A Sacramento property owner faces criminal charges and $2 million in civil penalties for allegedly maintaining houses across Sacramento for the purpose of growing illegal cannabis.
City officials say Lisa Ung, 63, owns eight homes in south Sacramento where more than 4,000 marijuana plants and clones have been recovered between August 2016 and this month.
Ung was arraigned Monday in Sacramento Superior Court on five counts of maintaining a place to furnish a controlled substance. She was ordered held in the county jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
It is not clear why she faces five counts in the criminal case but is accused of owning eight illegal grow houses in the city's civil complaint.
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Ung had little to say during the court hearing, except that she speaks Cantonese and would need a translator for future court hearings.
Ung's arrest continues a pattern of people of Chinese descent, including Chinese nationals, getting arrested for illegal grows in California and across the West. Experts say the grows are financed and organized by businessmen.
Ung's attorney, Samuel D. Berns of Rocklin, declined to comment about the charges or Ung's citizenship.
Under state law, California residents can grow up to six cannabis plants. If they want to grow more to sell, they must obtain city and state permits. Ung has no such permit.
Growing operations at Ung's house were brought to the attention of city officials because of complaints by residents, said Joe Devlin, Sacramento chief of cannabis policy and enforcement.
Ung's arrest was the result of increased city enforcement efforts that started last year. The city agreed to spend around $1 million to focus on illegal grow houses, saying it was important to eliminate black market operators as the city and the state try to usher in a legal cannabis distribution system.
"The scale of the illegal grow houses and the fire danger and criminal danger they present to neighborhoods is a real threat," said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker.
The city has also filed a civil lawsuit against Ung, saying she owns eight houses that were used for cannabis cultivation.
The city is seeking fines of $500 per plant, meaning she would owe about $2 million, as well as other fees for the enforcement action and the abatement of the properties.
The civil complaint says police have received numerous complaints about the alleged grow houses. In addition to recovering plants from the houses, officials also checked utility records and found extremely high levels of electricity use, suggesting the houses were using high-power grow lamps, according to the complaint.