Sacramento, California - Wednesday, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan, DEA Special Agent in Charge John J. Martin, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Spradlin, and IRS Criminal Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Cindy Chen announced one of the largest residential forfeiture efforts in the nation’s history in a multi-agency effort to eradicate criminal enterprises operating in neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento region.
“Transnational criminal organizations are a blight on our communities, bringing dangerous drugs to our streets and trying to impose a false sovereignty over our neighborhoods,” Attorney General Sessions said. “The day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump ordered me to make dismantling these organizations a priority, and we are carrying out that order with vigor. Today we take a major step toward that end using civil asset forfeiture, which is a key tool that helps us defund organized crime and weaken the criminals and the cartels. We have searched and filed forfeiture actions against dozens of houses allegedly used for criminal activity by Chinese drug traffickers, making this one of the largest residential forfeiture actions in American history. I want to thank all of our fabulous OCDETF members with the FBI, DEA, the Marshals Service, ICE, the IRS, Homeland Security Investigations, and our state and local partners with the California Highway Patrol, the Sacramento and Placer County Sheriffs’ Offices, and the Elk Grove police. They have helped make Sacramento safer. At the Department of Justice, we will remain focused on carrying out President Trump’s order and keeping dangerous and illegal drugs out of our country.”
“When criminal organizations funded by money from China reach into our cities to profit from illegal activity, our communities suffer,” said U.S. Attorney Scott. “These marijuana grow operations are illegal under federal and state law and are used to distribute marijuana all over the United States. They are a blight on our neighborhoods and create an unsafe environment for the men, women, and children who live there. The scope of this enforcement operation sends a clear message to international organized crime: get out of our neighborhoods. If you don’t, we will pursue you with all of the resources available to the federal government, seize your assets, search your properties, and target you for criminal prosecution. The success of this operation speaks to the effective partnerships across the federal and local law enforcement community and our united commitment to reduce violent crime in our residential neighborhoods by taking them back from criminal organizations with international ties and financing.”
“The FBI is committed to working with its federal, state, and local partners to disrupt and dismantle transnational organized criminal enterprises that place financial gain from their illicit activities ahead of the safety, security, and health of the residential communities they have hidden within,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Sacramento Field Office. “Our partnerships within the intelligence and law enforcement communities are essential to ensure identification and coordinated investigation of those who threaten our neighborhoods with crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking.”
“This operation targeted a sophisticated large-scale organized criminal network operating in our backyard,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge John J. Martin. “Individuals looking for opportunity chose the Sacramento region to set up shop and profit. DEA and our law enforcement partners will not stand for this and the message has been sent to those looking to invade our area with similar aspiration—you are not welcome. The citizens of our community deserve safe neighborhoods and we will work every day to ensure it.”
“Homeland Security Investigations has unique investigative authorities and has lent vast resources of specialized teams from across the country for this large-scale joint operation,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, special agent in charge for HSI overseeing Sacramento. “The work on this case highlights our signature transnational investigative authorities and how we are able to help tackle these types of criminal organizations working side-by-side with all of our federal partners to make our communities safer.”
“This was a large-scale operation, with millions of dollars coming into the U.S. from China,” said Cindy Chen, assistant special agent in charge, IRS Criminal Investigation. “This criminal organization used foreign money to purchase homes and turned them into marijuana grow houses; all at the cost of innocent neighborhoods. We are proud to provide our financial expertise as we work alongside our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice.”
On April 3 and 4, 2018, hundreds of federal agents and local law enforcement officers executed search warrants at approximately 74 houses suspected of being used by an international organization for marijuana cultivation, as well as two related business offices. Simultaneously, civil forfeiture actions were filed against more than 100 houses in the Sacramento region suspected of being related to this criminal organization and used as indoor marijuana grows. Some of the houses searched during this operation are subject to the forfeiture action. This represents one of the largest residential forfeiture efforts in the nation’s history.
Since 2014, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been investigating a number of indoor marijuana grows in residential neighborhoods throughout the Sacramento area. Common elements in some of the cases started to emerge: the down payments on the houses were financed by wires mainly from Fujian Province, in China; they used common Sacramento realtors; they used hard-money lenders rather than traditional banks; and they used straw buyers. The houses would then be converted into large-scale marijuana grows that often occupied a substantial portion, if not all, of the house and frequently involved hundreds or thousands of marijuana plants, which were later processed and distributed to other parts of the country, particularly the Eastern United States.
Such large-scale indoor grows violate federal and state law, as well as local codes and ordinances throughout the region. Further investigation found houses in the cities of Sacramento and Elk Grove and the counties of Sacramento, Calaveras, Placer, San Joaquin, El Dorado, Yuba, and Amador. The houses tended to use an extraordinary amount of electricity per month due to high-wattage lighting, circulatory fans, and other equipment, posing fire and environmental hazards; and frequently were left damaged or uninhabitable due to the grow operations. The influx of these marijuana cultivation sites into neighborhoods creates a risk of increased crime in from burglaries, robberies, and related activity. As of this afternoon, agents have seized approximately 61,050 marijuana plants from the houses and approximately 200 kilos of processed marijuana. They have also seized 15 firearms.
This operation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the IRS Criminal Investigation with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, the Elk Grove Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) effort. The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.