SACRAMENTO — About 100 residential homes across the Sacramento region were seized as federal investigators say they’ve unraveled a Chinese drug operation.
The federal agents conducted a two-day operation and raided the homes suspected to be illegal marijuana grow houses. The investigation has been ongoing since 2014.
So far, federal agents have seized more than 60,000 marijuana plants and more than $100,000 in cash.
Authorities say they’re targeting a criminal enterprise from China, they believe is behind the spike in illegal residential grows. Chinese people legally inside the United States would purchase the homes, then federal agents say people operating the grows in the homes were forced to work in them.
Investigators say the marijuana grown in the homes would be shipped across the country.
Federal agents say the investigation has been ongoing since 2014 and was not related to California’s recent legalization of marijuana. Under California law, the grows in these houses would likely fall outside the state law that went into effect on Jan. 1.
Federal agents say they want to seize every home involved in the crime ring, including one in a quiet North Natomas neighborhood.
“The FBI kicked in the door, and they had a lot of units,” said one neighbor.
The neighbor watched on Tuesday morning as federal agents raided a home in the quiet Creekside neighborhood of North Natomas.
The garage appears to be kicked in, the door, forced open.
“They let all the windows open, they were airing it out for some reason,” the neighbor said.
This man who wishes to remain anonymous said the home was up for sale about six months ago and was purchased recently.
“I haven’t seen them at all, I didn’t know anyone lived there,” he added.
That home is one of dozens around the Sacramento region, raided by federal authorities on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The marijuana grown in these houses was distributed all over the U.S., particularly to major cities on the East Coast.
U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott says the federal operation is the largest one of its kind, aimed at dismantling a criminal Chinese enterprise.
The organization is accused of using more than $6 million in foreign money, to buy more than 100 homes around the Sacramento region. Scott says the homes are then transformed into what he called, marijuana factories.
“The wired funds would go to an escrow account and then a hard money lender, then they would buy the title through a straw purchaser,” Scott added.
Scott says one of the biggest things that tipped off federal law enforcement:
“Eighty-five percent of homes were purchased through one realtor,” said Scott.
While there’s no plan in place to prevent criminal organizations like this one from buying up homes using illegal cash, Scott says the ones who are caught, will have their homes seized.
The total value of the homes is likely to be more than $10 million.
“This represents one of the largest forfeiture events in the nation’s history,” Scott said.
No charges have been filed yet.
Federal agents are now investigating the realtor and everyone else involved in the criminal operation.