4 Chinese Nationals Arrested as Georgia Authorities Allege Illicit $22 Million Marijuana Farm

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
February 28, 2024US News
Law enforcement officials in Georgia arrested four Chinese nationals after busting a illegal marijuana operation. They found over $22.3 million worth of cannabis inside the facility.

Law enforcement officials in Georgia have arrested four Chinese nationals in connection with a Marijuana grow operation with an estimated street value of $22.3 million.

The four Chinese nationals—identified as Zhu Sheng Bing, Jinpeng Ma, Chenhui Shu, and Wei Sheng Deng—were arrested and booked last week, following a joint operation involving the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. Both agencies announced the arrests during a joint press briefing on Tuesday.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office first began investigating an alleged food manufacturing facility located in Pierce County about a month ago, with suspicions of illicit activity taking place at the facility. In particular, Pierce County Sheriff Ramsey Bennett said people working at the facility told an undercover detective from his office that the facility was “growing and processing an edible food product,” which prompted him to contact Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Tyler Harper.

While executing a search warrant last week, Georgia law enforcement officials reportedly seized 11,153 Marijuana plants.

“This was the largest seizure ever in Pierce County and I think a pretty large seizure anywhere in the state,” Mr. Bennett said. “So we’re just pleased to have this part of the criminal element in jail and this much dope off the street.”

The Pierce County Sheriff said the four Chinese nationals remain in jail. Arrest records for Mr. Deng indicate he is wanted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“One does have an ICE detainer,” Mr. Bennett said, referring to a request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to law enforcement agencies to notify them when they detain an individual who is already wanted for potential immigration violations.

Mr. Bennett said the other three Chinese nationals “appear to be in the country legally.” Mr. Bennett said all four Chinese nationals are currently being held without bail.

Georgia Investigators See ‘Sophisticated Operation’

The four Chinese nationals currently face charges in Georgia for felony Marijuana manufacturing and for felony possession of Marijuana. Mr. Bennett said the four individuals will face additional charges for drug trafficking, but said his office would need to dry and weigh the seized Marijuana plants before it can determine what level of charges they may seek.

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Harper said their investigators see signs of a “national crime syndicate” connecting the Georgia marijuana growing operation to people in New York and Texas.

“This wasn’t your average South Georgia countryman with a few plants in the backyard or a few plants in the closet,” Mr. Bennett said. “No, it far exceeds that.”

“This was a very sophisticated operation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in infrastructure in the facility,” Mr. Harper added.

The Georgia Agricultural Commissioner said the grow house appeared indicative of a “national crime syndicate.”

“This could actually have tentacles that spread far past Pierce County and even the borders of the state of Georgia, but obviously this is an ongoing investigation. The sheriff’s office is leading the investigation and we’re working cooperatively with them,” he said.

Mr. Bennett said his office is also working with federal authorities as they continue to investigate the Marijuana growing operation.

Lawmakers Alarmed By China-Linked Weed Farms Nationwide

This arrest in Georgia last week comes as lawmakers have recently raised alarm about Chinese-linked marijuana-growing farms operating in the United States.

“The Committee on Homeland Security is growing increasingly alarmed by the number of illicit Chinese-operated marijuana farms that have been seized by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies across the United States,” House Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green (R-Tenn.) said in a Jan. 12 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “Many of these illicit grow operations work in conjunction with transnational criminal organizations.”

Mr. Green’s Jan. 12 letter asked DHS to brief Congress on its efforts to monitor for, investigate, and dismantle illicit Chinese-operated marijuana farms, and explain what links these marijuana farms may have to transnational criminal organizations and foreign entities.

A bipartisan group of 50 senators and House members signed a similar Feb. 2 letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking the U.S. Department of Justice brief Congress about potential ties between the Chinese Communist Party and illicit marijuana growing operations within the United States.

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