Big-Time Pot Growers Use Seattle-Area Homes

Big-Time Pot Growers Use Seattle-Area Homes
Posted by CN Staff on July 05, 2007 at 06:08:51 PT
By Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times Staff Reporter
Source: Seattle Times 
Seattle, WA -- From the sidewalk, the house on a sleepy cul-de-sac in Renton looked like a sweet slice of suburbia: four bedrooms, vaulted entryway, roses blooming out front.But inside, the home was a marijuana factory. Furniture had been shoved aside to make room for banks of halogen bulbs with foil lampshades. Tubes of flexible ducting connected to an industrial-grade air scrubber. Power was diverted around the electric meter by splices direct from the main line.
In place of a family, the home's primary "occupants" were 658 marijuana plants. In a good year, the harvest would be substantial enough to pay off the mortgage on the $500,000 house and buy another home.Growing pot indoors has old and deep roots in the green-thumbed Puget Sound area. But homes such as the one discovered in late 2005 in the hills above downtown Renton represent a new level of sophistication and scale in the lucrative cultivation of premium-grade marijuana that was once the franchise of British Columbia."B.C. bud" may have a new cousin: "King County bud."Since 2005, federal and state agents have raided more than 100 large-scale grow houses in the Seattle area, yielding a bumper crop of more than 41,000 plants, according to the White House drug czar's office. Police last month found the biggest yet, a 1,500-plant grow that consumed most of a 3,800-square-foot house.And Everett police were investigating a double homicide Monday in which two bodies were found in a home with more than 400 marijuana plants.Most of the busts flowed from a sprawling, 18-month investigation into a garden-supply store in Kent, which led police to clusters of grow houses managed by a handful of entrepreneurs.Since being opened by Canadian immigrants in 2003, the store, Kent Distributor, has become a one-stop shop for pot growers, according to federal court documents  offering everything from seedlings to grow lights on credit to an introduction to a real-estate agent who could help growers buy homes with no down payment. Growers as Businessmen Drug investigators, as well as economists and defense lawyers, trace the boom in indoor-grow operations to tighter border security. Despite an array of new, post-Sept. 11 detection equipment, the amount of pot seized by border agents in the western U.S. dropped from 16,607 pounds to 5,300 pounds in four years, leading to the belief that smugglers are simply now growing in the U.S."This is not the marijuana subculture that has always had marijuana grows," said Lt. Rich Wiley of the Washington State Patrol's narcotics task force. "This is a new group, a recent occurrence. These people are not even using [marijuana] themselves. They're businessmen."Drug investigators across the country  but particularly on the West Coast  are making similar finds. Last year, agents in the Sacramento, Calif., area busted 40 homes that together had more than 18,000 plants, while investigators in Oregon have busted at least three large-scale growing operations. As in other states, local investigators found the growers usually were Vietnamese, often with ties to Vancouver, B.C. And Seattle-area growers seemed to universally favor Kent Distributor.The store owners, a Vietnamese family, and their employees were federally indicted in April for alleged marijuana trafficking and money laundering. All could face 10-year mandatory minimum sentences if convicted. Dozens of their former customers also were swept up, and more federal charges are expected.Attorney David Gehrke, who represents the family matriarch, Le My Nguyen, conceded that part of the federal case was true."People who grew marijuana bought equipment there. But they also bought dirt at Home Depot and Lowe's," he said. "The fact that a lot of the growers were going there, I'm still not convinced it means my client knew what they were doing it for." One House After Another The trouble for Kent Distributor started with a house fire in Kent in March 2005. Kent police found a 500-plant marijuana grow in the rubble and linked the occupants to several other grow houses, a common setup in Canadian grow operations. The occupants, after being charged in federal court, told police they had gotten equipment and advice from Kent Distributor.Surveillance, which is detailed in federal affidavits in several cases, describes officers finding garbage bags full of pot clippings and root balls in the store's trash bin and listening to negotiations for the sale of "babies"  believed to be marijuana sprouts  for $25 apiece.Investigators also followed customers back to homes throughout King and Pierce counties and say they usually found a Kent Distributor business card amid huge grow operations. Investigators say low-paid "tenders" usually handled the gardening, employed by higher-level managers who often operated four or five houses.The houses were often unlivable, except for small corners inhabited by the tenders. Flexible ducting snaked through halls and bedrooms, sucking heat and humidity out through chimneys fitted with air scrubbers to remove the telltale odor of marijuana. The potted plants were often watered by drip systems and fed from jugs of fertilizer such as "Super Bud Blaster."The homes fit a pattern: modern split-levels with multi-chambered chimneys for venting, daylight basements and big yards to keep the neighbors at a distance. Some had plants on a crop rotation: baby plants upstairs, juveniles downstairs, and adults  with baseball-sized buds  in the basement."It's pretty much all I've been doing for the past year and a half  [busting] one house after another," said Kent police Sgt. Jim Miller, head of a narcotics task force in the Kent Valley.Jeffrey Steinborn, an attorney who represents an indicted store employee, said the largely Vietnamese customers didn't know a cardinal rule of marijuana cultivation. "All the American growers know that if you go to a grow shop, you're going to get followed home [by police] and busted," he said. "The Vietnamese didn't know that the feds were hanging out at the watering hole."As the investigation gained traction, a police source described how Kent Distributor would provide on credit the $20,000 to $30,000 worth of equipment needed to set up a grow, to be repaid after the first harvest. Another source, who cooperated with police after being charged with running a grow operation, reported that Kent Distributor had hired 20 drivers to ship marijuana to Oklahoma and Texas, and plants to Iowa, according to a affidavit filed by a federal investigator."We've heard about 'Northwest pot' showing up all over the country," said DEA agent Art Staples. Following The MoneyAs an industry, marijuana in Washington state is roughly estimated at $1 billion in wholesale value, more than wheat and potatoes combined. In British Columbia, economists put pot at $6.5 billion (U.S.) a year, second only to oil.The DEA estimates that a well-tended marijuana plant can yield up to $1,000 per harvest and three harvests a year, but some marijuana-legalization advocates consider that estimate extreme.But the DEA did document that at least $5.1 million flowed through the bank accounts of Kent Distributor and its owners since 2003, most of it cash. In February, federal agents using a listening device planted in the office heard the sound of cash being counted by hand, then bundled with the snap of rubber bands.Canadian drug investigators have followed the money into the mortgage industry, where unscrupulous brokers falsified loans for pot growers.Local law enforcement says a small number of real-estate agents and brokers were involved with many of the King County grow houses busted.According to a federal affidavit, one Realtor, Thu Ahn "Diana" Tran, daughter of one of Kent Distributor's owners, was offered by the store as a resource for people looking to set up grow houses and bought a series of homes with her husband where grow operations were found.Tran, who has been indicted for alleged money laundering, denied doing anything wrong when reached at Skyline Properties in Kent. "All I know is I'm selling house. I'm not helping out anyone," she said recently. "I'm just a normal regular Realtor."Skyline later said Tran no longer works for the firm.Dave Rodriguez, Northwest director of the White House Drug Policy Office, compared the approach of going after the suppliers and real-estate industry supporting pot growers to one taken by methamphetamine investigators trying to shut off the supply of "precursor" chemicals used to make the drug."In B.C., they've got 10 years of experience doing this," he said. "We're the ones that are learning the business."Information from Seattle Times staff reporter Roxana Popescu is included in this report.Source: Seattle Times (WA)Author: Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times Staff ReporterPublished: Thursday, July 5, 2007Copyright: 2007 The Seattle Times CompanyContact: opinion seatimes.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #7 posted by user123 on July 06, 2007 at 14:24:06 PT:
Waste 'o Time
Closing down Kent Distributors will have as about as much effect on growing, as busting Tommy Chong did on bong usage/sales.
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Comment #6 posted by potpal on July 06, 2007 at 05:29:03 PT
ho hum
What, do they pass this story around to different papers/cities every week or so. IOW, people grow plants inside their homes, plant seed, add water, provide can't stop this.Another result of cannabis prohibition... 
Cannabis prohibition is the crime.
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Comment #5 posted by goneposthole on July 05, 2007 at 08:59:25 PT
Just John Adams, not John Quincy. so sottey
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Comment #4 posted by sam adams on July 05, 2007 at 08:43:14 PT
I read somewhere that under federal sentencing guidelines, Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson probably would have been eligible for the death penalty for growing hemp. I think there is federal death penalty available to prosecutors for growing over 50,000 plants.
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Comment #3 posted by Sam Adams on July 05, 2007 at 08:42:03 PT
news from today
I saw in today's paper that 1 in 100 school-aged boys in this state have autism.It's almost definitely from some neuro-toxic pollutant in our environment, maybe mercury in vaccines, maybe mercury in the air. We don't know yet. I wonder how much money is spent to arrest and propagandize against MJ vs. research dollars going into autism.  1984 again. Cannabis protects against brain damage. It's so sad. If we WERE to declare a national emergency on autism, the trail would surely lead to some greedy capitalists pumping mercury into the air, subsidized by the government. Or back to Big Pharm and the rotten FDA and the arrogant public health doctors that forced 24 vaccines down our throats back in the late 80's.If the govt really wanted to help, they'd declare war on autism and Lyme disease. Or, if the government were 80 or 90% smaller, just think about how much more money private individuals could donate to research efforts. Just the families of autism victims alone could probably donate another 10 or 20 or 30 percent of their income to research. Instead they go to work every day, forced to give 50+ percent to a corrupt government.
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Comment #2 posted by goneposthole on July 05, 2007 at 08:23:38 PT
July 4, 1826
Thomas Jefferson died. On the same day, John Adams died.Both Presidents grew hemp. They were both in violation of today's federal law outlawing the cultivation of hemp.They were both criminals in today's federal government.
Thomas and John Quincy would have scoffed at today's federal law prohibiting the cultivation of hemp.The only freedom left in America is the freedom to snitch on your neighbor. Much like it was in the Soviet Union. It is only a matter of time that the US gov will suffer the same fate as the Soviet government. All governments fail when they lose the support of the people. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams would have made sure that the present US government would cease to exist.The American Gulag is in place and it's a shame."I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on July 05, 2007 at 07:07:57 PT
Just a Note
I hope everyone had a safe and fun 4th of July. We did. A storm is moving in to our area and my satellite will probably go out so if that happens I will catch up on news after the storm goes through.Have a great day!
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