Seven men and a woman accused of illegally operating multiple indoor marijuana grows in Murrieta pleaded not guilty Thursday to felony charges.

Jing Li, 37, Xue Geng Tang, 41, Shan Ye, 41, Huang Zi Zhang, 63, Lai Zi Zhang, 49, Sheng Zhong Zhang, 65, Tian Zhang, 43, and Xiuxia Zhu, 38, were arrested Friday following a Murrieta police investigation that began last month.

The Chinese immigrants are all charged with illegal cultivation of marijuana, transportation of marijuana for sale, grand theft and utilities theft.

They were collectively arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Kelly Hansen, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for Aug. 23 at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. Each defendant is being held in lieu of $210,000 bail at the Byrd Detention Center.

According to Murrieta police Lt. Mark Reid, the agency’s Special Enforcement Team became aware of alleged illicit commercial cannabis activity at three separate residences weeks ago and gathered sufficient evidence to obtain search warrants for each location.

The first warrant was served on Aug. 2 and led to the seizure of 2,800 marijuana plants, as well as evidence that electrical circuitry had been re-routed, resulting in utilities losses of $46,000, Reid said.

He said two other properties — a house on Cardiff Road and a house on Raphael Drive — were targeted by investigators Friday.

“Inside each of the locations, the team located large illegal marijuana grows and the theft of electricity,” the lieutenant said.

According to Reid, there were indications an electrical fire had erupted in the garage of one home, but it had been extinguished before causing significant damage.

Reid alleged that a total 7,000 cannabis plants in various stages of growth were seized by investigators, and he said the estimated total loss stemming from the alleged utilities thefts was $200,000.

The defendants were taken into custody at the residences without incident. None have documented prior felony convictions in Riverside County.

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