LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — 37 defendants, including 11 from Los Angeles, are being charged in a federal indictment unsealed today in New York, targeting a Southeast Asian marijuana and counterfeit cigarette trafficking organization.
The members of the ring allegedly conspired to produce and distribute over $45 million worth of marijuana and illegally distribute about 44 million cigarettes, that resulted in more than $7 million in lost tax revenue.
Several of the defendants from the Los Angeles area were involved in growing marijuana, while others were involved in overseeing transportation or served as money couriers, according to federal prosecutors.
Nine of the eleven Los Angeles area defendants were arrested early Tuesday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.
The defendants include:
• Paul Coong Lay, 47, of Monterey Park, who along with his brother, allegedly oversaw the growing of the ring’s marijuana.
• Steven Qu, 54, of Pomona, owner of Los Angeles-area trucking company Super Quality Logistics.
• Rocky Kuo, 61, of Temple City.
• Fu Chan Chuong, 48, of Temple City.
• Jia Yuan, 33, of San Gabriel.
• Zhu He Wang, 56, of Temple City.
• Hung Ho, 42, of Los Angeles.
• Kit Poon, 42, of Baldwin Park.
• Qui Sam Ho, 37, of Westminster.
Authorities are also looking for two other local suspects, identified as Yun Xing, 30, who is Qu’s wife, and Jonathan Fierro, 24, of Los Angeles.
Agents also raided a marijuana-growing house in Rosemead, and seized nearly 50 pounds of pot, as well as around $50,000 cash, according to officials.
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, spoke on the magnitude of the arrests.
“Today’s arrests deal a blow to an organization that allegedly conspired to manufacture multimillion-dollar quantities of marijuana that they would then distribute, along with millions of contraband cigarettes nationwide,” Bharara said. “Thanks to the coordinated efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement around the country, this alleged supply chain has been effectively broken.”
Court documents suggest the ring may have been in operation since 2010.
Paul Coong Lay, along with his brother, Chan Coong Lay, of Fresno, allegedly both maintained a network of marijuana-growing spots in California, as well as other states.
Surveillance of the brothers led to the raid of a site near Porterville, outside Bakersfield, by law enforcement. Authorities seized over 200 pounds of marijuana and around 185 plants.
Marijuana that had been grown by the Lay brothers, along with cigarettes, was trafficked to other parts of the country, using a Los Angeles transportation company called Super Quality Logistics, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors claim the company is owned by Steven Qu and his wife, Yun Xing.
The group allegedly used financial institutions to launder its proceeds.
Authorities have seized more than 25 bank accounts, allegedly used by the ring to launder the money, including accounts belonging to Super Quality Logistics. Federal prosecutors also say that authorities also seized a number of vehicles, including several tractor-trailers belonging to Super Quality Logistics.