Three Southern California men were arrested Thursday, March 7, on federal charges alleging they took part in a scheme that used millions of dollars wired from China to purchase homes that were converted into illegal marijuana grow houses.
Lin “Aaron” Li, 37, of Chino, Ben Chen, 42, of Alhambra, and Jimmy Yu, 44, of Pasadena, were each charged in Los Angeles federal court with one count of manufacturing, distributing and possessing with the intent to distribute marijuana.
In conjunction with the arrests, law enforcement executed search warrants at Li’s home, where they seized at least $80,000 in cash, and at seven suspected marijuana grow houses in Chino, Ontario and Chino Hills, where about 1,650 marijuana plants were seized, federal prosecutors said.
Federal authorities have begun the process to take possession of the seven homes, which were worth more than $5 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors allege that Li, a real estate agent, orchestrated the scheme to purchase residential properties through transactions designed to conceal the homes’ true owners, converted the houses to marijuana grow operations, and trafficked marijuana, with most of the processed cannabis sold to customers in California and Nevada.
After receiving financing from China, Li “acted as the Realtor for the purchase of (seven residences), which he then converted into illegal marijuana grow houses,” the affidavit alleges. “Li coordinated the purchase of the properties, managed them after purchase, paid their utilities and taxes, and established shell companies for the purpose of managing the properties’ finances.”
Investigators believe Li attempted to distance himself from the conspiracy by using Chen and Yu to manage day-to-day operations, to help with out-of-state distribution of the marijuana, and to return marijuana sale proceeds, according to court papers.
Li also allegedly used bypasses to divert electricity directly from power lines, thus stealing