Eleven defendants were indicted in three separate indictments for their parts in manufacturing, distributing and profiting from the production and distribution of illegal marijuana across the country and in the Puget Sound region, including six South County cities.
Some of the defendants were arrested Wednesday, Oct. 21 in coordinated searches of 27 locations in the Puget Sound region and additional searches in New York. Many of the locations in Washington were illegal grow houses, and others were businesses that allegedly served as front companies. Those arrested before noon Wednesday will make their appearance this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Seattle, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.
Search teams, led by investigators and agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation, executed search warrants at locations in Skyway, Renton, Kent, Lake Tapps, Maple Valley, Federal Way, Covington, SeaTac and Snohomish.
“This criminal group operated outside Washington State’s regulatory scheme for marijuana, distributing thousands of pounds of marijuana to states where marijuana was, or remains, illegal, making huge sums of money,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran in the news release. “Members of the group turned homes in the Seattle area into illegal grow houses, damaging neighborhoods, and competing unfairly with honest buyers who are just trying to afford their first home.”
Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement determined marijuana was being shipped to Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia and Missouri, according to the news release.
A total of 125 personnel from the King County Sheriff’s Office participated in the operation and the search of 27 locations, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release.
“This type of organized crime has a negative impact on the safety and the quality of life in our local neighborhoods,” King County Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht said. “It cannot be tolerated. I am very thankful for the hard work and long hours our detectives have put in to make this investigation a success.”
In the first indictment, Raymond Ng, 49, and Qifang Chen, 32, are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Ng operates Skyway General Contractors, and the couple is involved in the purchase of multiple properties that have been used as marijuana grows.
The second indictment charges Wei Quan Wu, 46, and Da Biao Wu, 52, with seven federal counts involving conspiracy, manufacturing, and possessing marijuana for distribution at different locations throughout the Puget Sound region.
Finally, the third indictment charges Wobiao Lei, 35, Xinming Wu, 35, Yi Jun Che, 33, Guo Gui Yu, 39, Chee Choong Ng, 52, Guolong Lee, 31, and Lingfeng Lei, 26, with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, as well as possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and manufacturing marijuana with intent to distribute. Chee Choong Ng was arrested by Postal Inspection agents Wednesday in Brooklyn, New York.
In each of the indictments, the government has filed for forfeiture of properties associated with the conspiracy and other proceeds of the crimes. Due to the amount of illegal marijuana involved, if convicted, the defendants face a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison.
“It’s clear the leaders of this organization contributed widely to the illegal marijuana drug trade in the Pacific Northwest,” said Inspector in Charge Anthony Galetti. “Illegal grow operations such as these, with their extensive networks, have a wide reaching and destructive impact to the communities they inhabit. With these arrests and seizures of illegal marijuana grow operations, we bring down one of the largest networks in the region. This should serve as a reminder to the community that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, along with our local, state, and federal partners, continues working diligently to keep any and all prohibited substances out of the US Mail.”
“The alleged members of this interstate drug trafficking organization will be held accountable for their conduct,” said IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell. “Criminal organizations that willfully ignore state marijuana regulations for their own enrichment will be investigated and prosecuted by IRS-CI and our partners.”
The charges contained in the indictments are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation and the King County Sheriff’s Office. The DEA, the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations assisted with the search warrants.