Courts & Crime

Probe of California's indoor pot farms continues

Organized crime rings that stretch from Sacramento to San Francisco to China, independent investment groups, connections to legitimate business — they've all come into focus as authorities dig deeper into the mystery behind the region's indoor pot farms.

Three years into their probes, state and federal prosecutors have filed seven cases that mostly have targeted the Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants caught tilling the neighborhood marijuana factories.

But law enforcement officials say they're still looking for the power players who created the multimillion-dollar grow-house industry that has reached from the hilltop overlooks of Placer and El Dorado counties to the suburban flats of Elk Grove.

"In some instances, there are definite ties to organized gangs in the Bay Area," said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Gordon Taylor, the supervisor of the agency's Sacramento-area office, when asked to identify the kingpins behind the local grow houses. "There also are independent traffickers who have learned to operate indoor grows through organized Asian groups. And we've found more sophisticated groups that have the capacity to infiltrate the real estate and mortgage industries."

Taylor said the business is "still being dominated by Asian drug-trafficking organizations."

Taylor said local grow houses these days are fetching between $3,200 and $3,500 per plant, despite a moderate downturn in the industry, and the Sacramento product is turning up in bong bowls as far away as the East Coast.

"It brings in huge profits," Taylor said.

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