Here’s the NBC report…
While California and Washington have mainly seen organized criminals from China buying homes and converting them into grow houses, Colorado has largely been grappling with Cuban and Mexican-led cartels, said Sheriff Bill Elder of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado.
“They have found that it’s easier to grow and process marijuana in Colorado, ship it throughout the United States, than it is to bring it from Mexico or Cuba,” Elder said.
A ‘MASSIVE’ MARIJUANA NETWORK
In El Paso County, NBC News witnessed firsthand the damage a commercial-scale cannabis grow can do to a home otherwise built for an average American family. Growers pose as legitimate renters, and by the time authorities disrupt their operation, homes have been gutted and trashed.
“We’ve fallen through floors,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Angecy Special Agent Randy Ladd said. “The electrical damage, they draw so much current that you’ll see, in some places, the wires are fused inside of the electrical box. And — a lot of people — they don’t wanna pay the high electric bills. So what they do is they take jackhammers and pickaxes and they cut through the foundation of the house, so that they could steal the power.”
The workers often fly from China to Belgium, and from Belgium to Mexico, before making asylum claims at the border and then disappearing by the time they’re scheduled to tell their stories in court, Ladd said. Often when grow houses are raided, immigration fugitives are discovered, he said.
The grow homes are usually purchased by shell property management companies, Ladd said. “These growers can hide in plain sight,” he said.
HOW FOREIGN CARTELS OPERATE IN THE U.S.
The Sacramento-area raids, which also struck Calaveras, Placer, San Joaquin, El Dorado, Yuba and Amador counties, shed some light on how many of the foreign rings operate.
Northern California-based DEA Special Agent Casey Rettig said suspects send cash to the United States in $9,999 increments, just below the mandated reporting threshold, and receive funds from China that fly under that nation’s $50,000 foreign spending limit. They then purchase homes with the help of cash lenders instead of traditional mortgage firms.
Last fall, a scenario fitting that pattern unfolded in Grays Harbor County, Washington, southwest of Seattle, as a drug task force busted an alleged cultivation ring funded by organized crime in China.
More than 40 suspects were arrested and $80 million worth of cannabis was seized, the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office said. “The majority of these homes were purchased with cash, and information was developed that these purchases were conducted by Chinese nationals involved in organized crime,” according to a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.
And just this month, search warrants were served at 19 locations in the Puget Sound area of Washington state, a federal official who did not want her name used said. The ring was allegedly run by three Chinese nationals who produced thousands of pounds of cannabis destined for greater New York, the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle alleges.
The suspects, who face drug conspiracy charges, purchased homes with the help of multiple wire transfers from China that included dollar figures — $2,000 to $5,900 — they believed would fly under the radar, according to a federal complaint.