A Chino real estate agent pleaded guilty on May 18 to a federal criminal charge for coordinating a scheme that used millions of dollars to purchase nine residential homes in San Bernardino County that were then converted into illegal marijuana grow houses.
Lin Li, a.k.a. Aaron Li, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute at least 1,000 marijuana plants, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Between May 2013 and September 2017, Li facilitated the purchase by Chinese investors of nine residential homes in Chino, Chino Hills and Ontario. While exercising control over these properties, Li converted or allowed the conversion of the houses to marijuana grow operations.
Li also admitted in his plea agreement that the conspiracy trafficked marijuana, with most of the processed marijuana being sold to customers in California, Nevada and New York.
Between October 2016 and September 2018, Li also created and signed false lease documents naming straw tenants for seven of the homes so they could be used to grow marijuana without being traced back to him or the other marijuana growers, according to Li’s plea agreement. Some of the false leases contained clauses prohibiting marijuana cultivation.
The down payments for most of the grow houses were traced back to wire transfers from China. The titles for most of the homes were transferred, shortly after they were purchased, to limited liability companies associated with Li, who served as the homes’ property manager.
Li and his co-conspirators physically diverted electricity directly from power lines, thus stealing power from the electric companies, hiding the grow houses’ high power usage from law enforcement, and creating fire risks in neighborhoods, according to court documents.
In early 2018, a neighbor complained to law enforcement about the “overwhelming” smell of marijuana coming from one of the Chino Hills homes and how no one seemed to live there, court papers state.
Law enforcement officials executed search warrants in 2018 and 2019 at Li’s home and the nine marijuana grow houses in San Bernardino County. As a result of the searches, authorities seized approximately 4,342 marijuana plants and 91.72 kilograms of processed marijuana from the grow houses, as well as approximately $89,995 in drug proceeds from Li’s house.