2 Indicted in Chinese-Funded String of 9 Inland Empire Marijuana Grow Houses
A federal jury indicted a Chino man and a Pasadena man Thursday on 19 felony charges for allegedly using money wired from China to buy and illegally grow marijuana inside of nine homes in Chino, Chino Hills and Ontario, federal authorities said.
Lin Li, also known as Aaron Li, 37, of Chino and Jimmy Yu, 44, of Pasadena were named in the indictment, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Ciaran McEvoy said in a written statement.
Li, a real estate agent, is accused of orchestrating the scheme with millions of dollars in funding wired from unindicted co-conspirators in China, according to Ciaran. Yu is accused of acting as a caretaker of the illicit indoor pot farms.
Li and Yu have both been charged with crimes including conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana, conspiracy to maintain a drug-involved premises, maintaining a place for the manufacture and distribution of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
A third defendant, 42-year-old Ben Chen of Alhambra, is also accused of acting as a caretaker of the marijuana grows and is being charged separately, prosecutors said.
The case stems from a 14-month investigation into the nine grow houses in Chino, Chino Hills and Ontario, Ciaran said. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department initiated the investigation and was later joined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
The investigation culminated in a series of raids on March 7, during which the three suspects were arrested, officials said.
Authorities initially alleged the men were responsible for seven grow operations, but two more have since been added.
Investigators uprooted a total of 4,342 plants from the homes, officials said.
As part of the case, federal prosecutors are seeking to seize eight homes allegedly involved in the operation, according to Ciaran. They include five properties in Chino, two in Chino Hills and one in Ontario.
After obtaining the funding from China, Li used straw buyers, shell companies and fake tenants to hide what was going on inside the homes, officials said.
It was the odor that ended up bringing the scheme crashing down, authorities said.
“In early 2018, a neighbor complained to law enforcement about the ‘overwhelming’ smell of marijuana coming from (a) Chino Hills home and how no one seemed to live there,” Ciaran said.
Li and Yu are scheduled to return to court for arraignment hearings on April 4.
If convicted as charged, they each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and potential maximum sentenced of life behind bars.