US seizes 100 'pot-growing' houses linked to China

File photo showing marijuana plants being grown in a climate-controlled facility in Smith Falls, Canada.
File photo showing marijuana plants being grown in a climate-controlled facility in Smith Falls, Canada.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Federal agents seized more than 100 homes in one of the largest residential drug busts in US history in a bid to combat Chinese-run marijuana operations, the government said on Wednesday (April 4).

Hundreds of federal agents flooded California state capital Sacramento on Tuesday and Wednesday with local police, filing forfeiture actions against properties being used by Chinese drug traffickers.

"This was a large-scale operation, with millions of dollars coming into the US from China," Cindy Chen of the Internal Revenue Service, which was part of the raids, said in a statement from the Department of Justice.

"This criminal organisation used foreign money to purchase homes and turned them into marijuana grow houses; all at the cost of innocent neighbourhoods." The IRS was joined by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as immigration officers and police, in executing search warrants at more than 70 houses suspected of being used for marijuana cultivation, the Department of Justice said.

Civil forfeiture actions were filed against more than 100 houses while agents seized more than 60,000 marijuana plants and around 200 kg of processed marijuana, as well as 15 firearms.

The raids were part of an investigation that began in 2014, when police began to notice down payments on the houses financed by wire transfers mainly from Fujian Province, on China's southeast coast.

The houses would then be converted into large-scale marijuana grows, each of which could accommodate hundreds or even thousands of plants, the Department of Justice said.

The houses also gave themselves away by using vast amounts of electricity due to high-wattage lighting, circulatory fans, and other equipment.

"These marijuana grow operations are illegal under federal and state law and are used to distribute marijuana all over the United States," said US attorney McGregor W. Scott after the operation.

"They are a blight on our neighbourhoods and create an unsafe environment for the men, women, and children who live there."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said international criminal gangs were trying to impose a "false sovereignty" over certain American neighbourhoods.

"The day I was sworn in as attorney general, President Trump ordered me to make dismantling these organisations a priority, and we are carrying out that order with vigour," he added.