A Los Angeles federal grand jury Thursday returned a 19-count felony indictment charging two men with participating in an alleged scheme in which nine residential properties in San Bernardino County were purchased, mostly with money wired from China, and converted into illegal marijuana grow houses.
Real estate agent Lin “Aaron” Li, the U.S.-based coordinator of the alleged scheme, and Pasadena resident Jimmy Yu, an alleged grow house caretaker, are charged with conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana, and to maintain a drug-involved premises, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of eight properties — five in Chino, two in Chino Hills, and one in Ontario — that allegedly were used in the marijuana grow house scheme.
Li, 37, of Chino, additionally is charged with nine counts of knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute marijuana plants — 4,342 marijuana plants in total — and nine counts of knowingly maintaining a place for the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana.
Yu, 44, additionally faces five counts each of possession with intent to distribute marijuana plants and maintaining a place for the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Li and Yu are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on April 4 in Los Angeles federal court.
Ben Chen, 42, of Alhambra, who also allegedly took care of the marijuana grows, is being charged separately.
According to the indictment, unindicted co-conspirators wired millions of dollars from China to bank accounts controlled by Li, who allegedly then used straw buyers, shell companies, straw tenants, fake utility subscribers and phony leases to disguise the properties’ illegal purpose of housing commercial marijuana grows.
For example, an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint describes how a straw buyer purchased a Chino Hills residence for $782,000 in 2015. The straw buyer was named as CEO of a Li-established limited liability company, and that company received a $1 million wire transfer from a Hong Kong-based investment group, federal prosecutors allege.
The vast majority of the purchase price of the house was then wired from the LLC’s bank account, the affidavit states. Li allegedly received a commission check as the Realtor for the sale and also served as the home’s property manager.
In early 2018, a neighbor complained to law enforcement about an overwhelming smell of marijuana coming from the Chino Hills home and how no one seemed to live there, according to court papers.
If convicted, each defendant faces between 10 years and life in federal prison, prosecutors said.