A high electricity bill and a vehicle registration helped law enforcement nab five individuals for their alleged involvement in a massive illegal marijuana grow and distribution operation just west of Philomath. A search warrant served Nov. 29 at an address on Noon Road led to the discovery of nearly 4,000 marijuana plants, over $19,000 in cash and information that allegedly connects the group to Chinese organized crime.
Ken Rueben, Philomath chief of police, said a key piece of information that sparked the investigation came down to checking on how much electricity was being used at the location.
“One of the things they do is they look at the power consumption,” Rueben said. “Is the power consumption routine for a small farm or a small house? … So we subpoenaed the power records and the power usage was way more than normal.”
As a result, investigators started doing surveillance on the property and found that a vehicle that the suspects had been using was coming and going on a regular basis and could be tracked to a particular Portland address, Rueben said.
“We worked with Benton County and they had received information that this vehicle that we were focused on was delivering drugs to the Portland metro area,” Rueben said. “They found out it was out here and registered to the Noon Road address and then they did some follow-up and figured out that these guys were there.”
Combined with information investigators had from prior cases and out of previous search warrants, the law enforcement team moved forward with serving a search warrant at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 29 at 33487 Noon Road.
Said Rueben, “It’s a Chinese organized crime organization that is based in New York.”
The multi-agency operation included officers from the Philomath, Albany and Lebanon police departments, deputies from the Benton County and Linn County sheriff’s offices, and an agent and interpreter with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Also involved were members of the LINE Team, which is an acronym for Linn Interagency Narcotics Enforcement. The team includes members from Albany Police Department, Linn County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police.
Police arrested five men — Jianhua Chen, 53; Yushen Chen, 36; Shuiqing Hu, 39; Zining Huang, 27; and Weiming Wu, 51. All five face felony charges related to possession, delivery and unlawful manufacturing of marijuna.
The search warrant process went smoothly with the suspects all cooperating and nobody injured, Rueben said. The suspects communicated through an interpreter. No weapons were found.
Rueben described the warehouse-type structure that housed the marijuana grow as two stories with approximately 5,000 square feet of space and 11 separate rooms.
“Each room had different ages of plants in them all the way from the little guys all the way up to fully-grown ready to cut plants,” Rueben said about what appeared to be a professional operation. “It had everything — it had generators, it had air movement, it had filtering devices for the air, it had electronically controlled temperature for the rooms. Humidity in each room was controlled based on how big the plants were, how old they were. The lighting was all controlled by electronics.”
In all, law enforcement seized and destroyed 3,830 marijuana plants at the scene.
“We cut them off at the bases and then the fire department came down and soaked them with water and then we covered them up with plastic in order to accelerate mold growth on the green plants and that destroys them,” Philomath Police Lt. Dave Gurski said.
Gurski added that 237 pounds of finished product were cut out of triple-sealed bags as part of the destruction process.
Although marijuana is legal in Oregon, some large grow operations can be connected to a criminal element with distribution all over the country.
“I think there’s a big misnomer that the marijuana industry, because it’s legal, there’s no crime involved and that’s not true,” Rueben said. “Many of these guys, they don’t want to stay within the confines of the law, so they want to trade marijuana for methamphetamine and heroin and fentanyl. That’s a regular occurrence but they use marijuana as currency because it’s legal.”
Four of the five individuals among the alleged “crew” of growers at the Noon Road location have connections to New York with the fifth out of New Jersey. The investigation led to a headquarters in New York, Rueben said.
“These guys are solely hired by this organization to operate the drug — that’s what they do,” Rueben said. “So they bought this property from the previous owner, who had a legal marijuana operation there, and they didn’t have a license and converted it into an illegal marijuana operation for the purpose of transporting and shipping it all over the United States.”
Incidentally, a 1-year-old German shepherd that was taken from the property to the Heartland Humane Society is available for adoption.
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