Three members of an international drug trafficking organization pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to distributing more than a thousand kilograms (2,200 pounds) of illegal marijuana.
The defendants admitted in their plea agreements that they used money from conspirators in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) to purchase homes in the Puget Sound area, including Kent, that they used for marijuana production, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. They set up a shipping company to sell the black market marijuana on the East Coast.
Qifeng Li, 41, his wife Xiamin Huang, 38 and his brother Qiwei Li, 45, all face a mandatory minimum five years in prison and up to 40 years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour on June 18.
“The entry of organized crime into the marijuana marketplace is of increasing concern in the Western District of Washington,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “This conduct brings crime to our neighborhoods, artificially fuels the housing market, and creates a blight of toxic abandoned grow houses. With this case, the defendants are forfeiting more than a million dollars of equity in properties and more than $350,000 in cash – putting a dent in the organized crime profits.”
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, New Jersey.
The defendants then deposited the profits from the marijuana enterprise into their bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to try to avoid financial reporting requirements.
Qifeng Li and Xiamin Huang are U.S. citizens. Qiwei Li is a lawful permanent resident who likely will face deportation following his prison term.
This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved. The Investigation was led by DEA and Homeland Security Investigation (HSI). Significant investigative assistance was also provided by the Seattle Police Department and FBI.