Say, wasn’t marijuana legalization supposed to eliminate trafficking by organized crime, especially foreign operations? It didn’t work out that way for California, where a massive federal and state operation seized over one hundred houses and several businesses linked to a China-based syndicate. The operation grew marijuana on an industrial scale and shipped it to all corners of the US, the Department of Justice announced:
Hundreds of federal and local law enforcement agents have seized roughly 100 Northern California houses purchased with money wired to the United States by a Chinese-based crime organization and used to grow massive amounts of marijuana illegally, authorities said Wednesday.
The raids culminated a monthslong investigation focusing on dozens of Chinese nationals who bought homes in seven counties. Most of the buyers were in the country legally and were not arrested as authorities investigate if they were indebted to the gang and forced into the work, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said.
Much of the pot was shipped to Georgia, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania through Atlanta, Chicago and New York City, he said. The drug is legal in California but requires permits to grow and can’t be sent across state lines. It is still banned by the U.S. government.
Black-market pot-growing houses have proliferated in the inland California region where authorities carried out the raids, and many of them were traced to Chinese criminal organizations from the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-2000s, Scott said. The high number of grow houses in the area may be because of low property prices compared with the Bay Area and the state’s large Chinese population, the prosecutor said.
The most fascinating part of this scheme is the massive real-estate fraud. Why buy all the houses? It kept nosy neighbors and the prying overhead eyes of law enforcement from discovering the operations. They gutted the houses and turned them into farms on the inside, rigging up irrigation systems and indoor grow lighting to churn out multiple crops a year inside each of them.
It’s among the largest residential forfeiture in US history, the DoJ claims, if not the largest. That may not be much of a windfall for the government, however. They’ll have to spend more money than they’ll get just to make them meet the basic codes for sale. Even when these houses eventually get sold off, they’ll keep home-renovation TV shows going for seasons to come in rehabilitating them for residential use again.
Another major aspect of the case is human trafficking. The raids detained a number of people who only spoke Chinese, but the DoJ suspects that most of those are so-called “indentured servants,” or literally slaves to the syndicate. The criminal conspiracy brought them to the US to work the farms, using debts or threats to keep them from leaving and tipping off authorities to the operation. If that’s true, it’ll be another major headache for the DoJ and the Department of Homeland Security. Most of them will not be anxious to go back to China and face the wrath of the syndicate, which means many if not all of them will apply for asylum. Some of them will get that in exchange for testimony, and prosecutors will have to discern carefully the differences between victims and perpetrators rounded up in these sweeps.
One can expect Jeff Sessions to talk about this case a lot when it comes to the issue of marijuana legalization. He’s come under fire in Congress for his more aggressive policies of enforcement, at least as stated. Sessions can use this case as an example of how marijuana legalization can act as a cover for criminal operations, especially foreign syndicates, and how those crimes combine up with others like fraud and slavery. At the very least, legalization didn’t solve those problems.