Three members of an international drug trafficking organization were sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to prison terms ranging from 24 to 32 months for distributing more than 1,000 kilograms of illegal marijuana.
The defendants pleaded guilty in March, admitting in their plea agreements that they used money from conspirators in the Peoples Republic of China to purchase homes in the Puget Sound area, including Kent, that they used for marijuana production.
Qifeng Li, 41, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and four years of supervised release, his wife Xiamin Huang, 39, was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release, and brother Qiwei Li, 45, was sentenced to 30 months in prison, according to an U.S. Department of Justice news release.
Of the three, Qiwei Li is the only one who is not a U.S. citizen and faces deportation following his prison term. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said this was “an extensive and sophisticated grow operation over a multi-year period.”
“Foreign money is increasingly used to create networks of illegal and unsafe grow houses, blighting our neighborhoods and defeating the closely regulated marijuana marketplace the state of Washington pledged to create,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “These illegal grow houses are toxic from chemicals, pose a fire risk from jury-rigged wiring, and are targeted for violent strong-armed robberies. These defendants are forfeiting more than $1 million in cash and properties, but they are fortunate they escaped being shot or killed at one of their illegal grows.”
According to the facts admitted in the plea agreement, between July 2015 and May 2018, the conspirators purchased homes in Burien, Kent, Seattle and Tukwila, which they used exclusively for marijuana production.
More than $598,000 was wired to the conspirators from China to fund the purchases. The defendants shipped more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana to the New York City area, via FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and a private freight forwarder.
Ultimately, in an effort to streamline distribution, the conspirators established a shipping company, Pony Movers, LLC, to transport their marijuana from Western Washington to a warehouse in Little Ferry, N.J. The defendants then deposited the profits from the marijuana enterprise into their bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid financial reporting requirements.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The investigation was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Homeland Security Investigation. Significant investigative assistance was also provided by the Seattle Police Department and FBI.