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March 27, 2019Seattle, United StatesNarcotics, Financial Crimes

Members of international drug trafficking conspiracy plead guilty

Defendants used cash from China to purchase and operate marijuana grow houses – set up shipping company to move thousands of pounds of black market marijuana to East Coast

Three members of an international drug trafficking organization pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to distributing more than a thousand kilograms of illegal marijuana, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran and Special Agent in Charge Brad Bench of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Seattle Field Office. The defendants admit in their plea agreements that they used money from conspirators in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) to purchase homes in the Puget Sound area that they used for marijuana production. Qifeng Li, 41, his wife Xiamin Huang, 38, and brother Qiwei Li, 45, all face a mandatory minimum five years in prison and up to 40 years in prison when sentenced by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour on June 18, 2019.

“Organized crime is very concerning to those of us charged with enforcing the law,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “These criminals have a broad international reach and are responsible for damaging legitimate businesses and decreasing property values. They cannot be allowed to continue to profit through their illegal enterprises, while jeopardizing the welfare of law abiding citizens in our community.”

According to the facts admitted in the plea agreement, between July 2015 and May 2018, the conspirators purchased homes in Burien, Kent, Seattle and Tukwila, which they used exclusively for marijuana production. More than $598,000 was wired to the conspirators from China to fund the purchases. The defendants shipped more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana to the New York City area, via FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and a private freight forwarder. Ultimately, in an effort to streamline distribution the conspirators established a shipping company, Pony Movers, LLC, to transport their marijuana from Western Washington to a warehouse in Little Ferry, New Jersey. The defendants then deposited the profits from the marijuana enterprise into their bank accounts in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid financial reporting requirements.

“The entry of organized crime into the marijuana marketplace is of increasing concern in the Western District of Washington,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “This conduct brings crime to our neighborhoods, artificially fuels the housing market, and creates a blight of toxic abandoned grow houses. With this case, the defendants are forfeiting more than a million dollars of equity in properties and more than $350,000 in cash – putting a dent in the organized crime profits.”

Qifeng Li and Xiamin Huang are U.S. citizens. Qiwei Li is a Lawful Permanent Resident who likely will face deportation following his prison term.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

The case was prosecuted by the Western District of Washington’s United States Attorney’s Office. case was led by the was led by HSI and DEA. Significant investigative assistance was also provided by the Seattle Police Department and FBI.

The case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Joe Silvio and Assistant United States Attorney Marie Dalton. Mr. Silvio is an attorney with Homeland Security Investigations, specially designated to prosecute cases in federal court.