Black-market tear

Task force commander says ‘Chinese-organized crime’ at the center of California’s underground cultivation empire

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the July 26, 2018, issue.

Power usage, a house fire and a very distinct odor led sheriff’s authorities to confiscate nearly 3,000 marijuana plants from four Sacramento County homes this month. The black-market raids show no signs of slowing during California’s first summer of legalization.

William Ruzzamenti, who runs a regional narcotics task force out of the Sheriff’s Department, says the illicit cannabis market is cunning and sophisticated, and likely to adapt as long as illegal weed remains in demand in states that haven’t regulated it. He also says the ones most likely to profit off the marijuana black market come from the far east.

“Literally Chinese-organized crime is at the center of what’s going on here,” Ruzzamenti contended. To make it more confusing, he says, Chinese gangs will hire Mexican nationals to maintain the grow sites. “It’s more convoluted than what we used to see,” he added.

As SN&R reported in June, utility use often factors into local investigations. The most recent occurred over an eight-day span.

On July 11, a paid Sacramento Municipal Utility Department bill helped authorities connect an alleged grow operation with approximately 1,500 live marijuana plants in Rancho Cordova to the property’s owner. Inside the residence on the 10000 block of Berwick Way, authorities arrested 56-year-old Jiaqing Song on charges of producing marijuana for sale and managing a location that manufactures a controlled substance.

Two days before Jiaqing’s arrest, authorities say they tracked the large consumption of electrical power to a one-story residence with covered windows and fortified entry points in an unincorporated part of the county. After conducting surveillance outside the home, a deputy obtained a search warrant and detained Quy Hoang, 68, at the front door. Authorities say they found Hoang’s wife hiding inside the home, where they allegedly uncovered a sophisticated grow operation that spanned several rooms. More than 1,000 marijuana plants, approximately 10 clones, about one pound of processed marijuana, nearly $1,500 in cash and a firearm registered to Hoang were reportedly seized.

A residential fire brought authorities to a suspected grow house in Wilton on July 5. At the residence on Mann Road, deputies alerted to the fire knocked on the door and saw a man attempt to flee out of the back, they reported. Yishou Xu, 45, was quickly detained along with a woman living at the house, Fuxiang Yang, 46. Authorities say they found 195 marijuana plants in a rear shed and 72 more inside the home, along with nearly 800 grams of processed marijuana divided into six bags, a digital scale and nearly $8,000 in cash.

Yishou and Fuxiang had been on probation for 2016 misdemeanor convictions of marijuana cultivation. According to online court records, they pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor count each of possessing marijuana with the intent to sell it on the black market on July 16, and were sentenced to 90 days in jail and another three years of informal probation.

On July 3, sheriff’s authorities followed up on an online tip that a residential property literally stunk of marijuana by obtaining a high-power usage report from SMUD and sending a sheriff’s helicopter overhead to conduct surveillance. Authorities say the helicopter pilot spotted two large greenhouses behind the gated residence on Victory Avenue. After a search warrant was obtained, authorities say they located a large grow behind the home consisting of more than 100 marijuana plants worth roughly $15,000. Juan Carlos Zunigagarcia, 23, was one of three people detained at the property.