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Kent garden-store owner sentenced in marijuana case

Le My Nguyen, the former owner of a Kent garden store, was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 41 months in prison and four years of supervised release for conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Nguyen, 61, of SeaTac, also was ordered to forfeit more than $750,000 in cash and equipment seized as part of the case, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Nguyen ran Kent Distributor, which operated as Kent Garden Supplies, a retail store formerly located in the 18800 block of 72nd Avenue South.

Representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration led an April 2007 raid of Kent Garden Supplies. The raid followed an investigation that determined the company provided supplies and equipment to other conspirators for use in marijuana-growing operations.

According to court documents, Nguyen and other owners and employees provided advice not only about how to grow marijuana, but about how to find suitable houses for growing operations, how to avoid law-enforcement detection, and how to avoid forfeiture of assets by the government if detected. Some conspirators were allowed to get supplies and equipment on credit and pay back the debt with profits from their marijuana crops.

At the sentencing Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik stated that Nguyen “was deeply involved in a serious criminal enterprise.”

Lasnik also noted that Nguyen had immigrated to Canada from Vietnam, and said, “part of the compact is that you abide by the laws” of her new country.

Nguyen plans to apply for treaty transfer to return to Canada, where she is a citizen. Under the judgment filed Friday, if deported from the United States, she is not allowed to return without permission from the U.S. government.

During the year-long investigation, officers discovered and seized thousands of marijuana plants at more than 30 indoor marijuana-growing operations, primarily located in south King County, where supplies and equipment were obtained from Kent Distributor. In her plea agreement, Nguyen admitted laundering as much as $2.5 million in proceeds of the drug conspiracy between 2003 and April 2007.

In asking for a significant sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Vogel noted that Nguyen had been involved in the business from the beginning, and was instrumental in funneling proceeds through a variety of bank accounts. Nguyen offered advice to growers about how to protect themselves financially by having no equity in houses that might be seized by the government if the grow was discovered.

Vogel wrote in her sentencing memo, “After several years of working (at Kent Garden Supplies), Nguyen bought the business in early 2007, and sought to expand it. She worked every day promoting Kent Distributor’s illegal agenda, and profited handsomely from it. She was, at least in part, responsible for the business’ exponential financial success, and she played a large personal role in the proliferation of illegal commercial marijuana cultivation in this area.

Two leaders of the conspiracy remain fugitives in Canada, according to the press release. The U.S. plans to seek to extradite Danh Van “Victor” Nguyen, 43; his wife Phoung Thao “Lisa” Tran, 35; and his brother, Binh Nguyen, 35. They had been living in Renton before returning to Surrey, B.C., prior to the April 2007 arrests.

The investigation was conducted by the DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, King County Sheriff’s Office, Seattle Police Department, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Valley Narcotics Enforcement Team, and detectives from the cities of Kent, Auburn, and Renton.

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