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Report: Foreign drug trafficking syndicates targeting legalized marijuana states

June 1, 2018  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Report: Foreign drug trafficking syndicates targeting legalized marijuana states

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Federal authorities revealed that international drug trafficking syndicates from Mexico, Cuba, and China are taking advantage of idle enforcement of marijuana growing rules in states with that have legalized the drug for recreational use.

These states are becoming “hit-or-miss” in implementing laws that still forbid the unregulated growth of marijuana.

Local and federal officials busted 74 marijuana grow houses in the Sacramento, California, area during an operation conducted in April.

The bust resulted in the seizure of millions of dollars worth of property — much of it owned by organized criminal groups from China, according to NBC News.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred to it as “one of the largest residential forfeiture actions” in the history of the United States, according to NBC News.

Federal authorities said that in states such California, Colorado, and Washington — where the recreational use marijuana is legal — enforcement of growing laws have either been hit-and-miss, or it provides cover for transnational criminal organizations (TCO) who now appear to be investing significant money in real estate to get even more significant returns.

The TCOs are typically Chinese, Cuban, or Mexican groups and are purchasing or renting hundreds of homes to carry out their grow operations.

The California raids were carried out in the Sacramento area and included homes in Calaveras, Placer, San Joaquin, El Dorado, Yuba, and Amador counties.

The foreign TCOs would send money to the United States in small amounts just under the $10,000 mandated reporting limit. The cash would be saved until enough was on hand to buy a home, according to DEA Special Agent Casey Rettig. The groups would use cash lenders instead of traditional mortgage companies.

 

A bust that took place in Washington State bust back in the fall of 2017 led to the arrest of 40 suspects and the seizure of $80 million worth of marijuana, according to the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office.

“The majority of the homes were purchased with cash, and information was developed that Chinese nationals involved in organized crime conducted these,” a statement from sheriff’s office statement indicated.

Nineteen additional raids in Washington executed this month revealed a purported ring controlled by three Chinese natives who were said to be growing marijuana to be shipped to New York.

Mike Hartman, Colorado Department of Revenue executive director, works to regulate and license the state’s legalized cannabis business. He says the TCOs are targeting these legalized states “to shroud their operations in our legal environment here and then take the marijuana out of the state.”

Since marijuana became legal in Colorado, highway seizures of the drug being sent to other states has increased by 43%. “Columbia is to cocaine as Colorado is to marijuana,” DEA Agent Randy Ladd said to NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez in an interview. He added that the states are “absolutely turning a blind eye”

Gutierrez went with DEA agents as they raided a home in an affluent Colorado neighborhood. The leased residence, owned by a Naval officer who had been deployed out of the area, had been transformed into a massive pot-growing enterprise that overtook the entire second floor. The owner was shocked to find out that a Cuban crime group had nearly destroyed the property.

Despite the widespread growth of illegal marijuana operations in Colorado where officials seized 3.5 tons of the drug in 2016, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) threatened to hinder the nominations of Department of Justice positions after Attorney General Sessions revealed a stricter marijuana policy.

Sessions declared plans to repeal an Obama-era memo that said the DOJ would abstain from enforcing federal drug laws in states that had legalized the drug.

Back in 2016, officials in Colorado busted several members of a Vietnamese-American criminal group involved in an operation that would produce marijuana illegally in Colorado and bring it to Texas.

The operation came to light after a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) stopped a car driven by Tien Nguyen in Smith County. The trooper found more than $70,000 in cash.

His license showed the address of the residence in Colorado. The money was in vacuum-sealed bags in the hatchback and glove compartment. He was charged with money laundering. The probe resulted in the arrest of 30 people in Colorado and Texas.

Just after authorities revealed this operation, another raid occurred in Denver in what the state’s attorney general dubbed “a massive illegal interstate marijuana distribution and cultivation network from Colorado to Texas.”

The probe led to the seizure of millions of dollars in cash and 2,600 “illegally cultivated” marijuana plants, and 4,000 pounds of cannabis.

The law enforcement officials found the drugs in 18 warehouses and storage units along with 33 residences, a majority of which was in the Denver area. The Office of the Colorado Attorney General stated they had just “scratched the surface.”

The business is lucrative for the drug cartels who can make upward of $4,000 per pound of marijuana by producing it in legalized states and smuggling it to the east coast.

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