Law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County, California have filed charges against 11 individuals after a huge subterranean cannabis cultivation operation was discovered by police. At a press conference on Monday, San Bernardino District Attorney Jason Anderson and Sheriff Shannon Dicus announced the group faces charges of felony cultivation of marijuana, violating environmental law, and misdemeanor possession of marijuana for sale.
Law enforcement officials pegged the value of the cannabis products seized from the property in Newberry Springs at $9 million on the illicit market, although estimates from police and prosecutors have come under fire in recent months for being unrealistically inflated.
The charges against the defendants are related “to an industrial-sized subterranean illegal marijuana grow in Newberry Springs, a processing warehouse, and other properties used in conjunction with the selling, manufacturing, and distribution of cannabis,” according to a statement from law enforcement officials.
California Property Raided Twice
Police first served a search warrant at the property in the small California high desert town in August 2020, according to arrest records from the sheriff’s department. At that time, law enforcement officials discovered eight greenhouses with approximately 2,000 cannabis plants and more than 100 pounds of processed marijuana on the property. The owner of the land at the time was identified as Cheng Lin, who also faces a felony conspiracy charge. Two defendants who were detained at the site during the raid have also been charged.
Prosecutors allege that after the first raid, Lin sold the property to a second individual, Qiaoyan Liu, who also faces a felony conspiracy charge. On March 3 of this year, police raided the property a second time. During that action, officers with the sheriff’s department’s cannabis enforcement team discovered a large red shipping container known as a Conex box next to a house at the location.
“Upon searching the Conex box, deputies discovered the floor opened and were able to descend into an underground bunker,” the statement reads, according to a report from the Victorville Daily Press. “The bunker was 230 feet in length by 60 feet in width. It was constructed with over 30 Conex boxes approximately 15 feet below the ground.”
The underground facility covered 14,000 square feet and contained more than 6,000 illicit cannabis plants. Deputies also discovered a reserve of 5,500 gallons of fuel to power “generators that were used to air out the space and cure the plants,” according to Anderson.
Prosecutors also allege that “processed marijuana was found in the residence of Cheng Lin, as well as a commercial lease agreement in Cheng Lin’s name, for a commercial building in which law enforcement found numerous items used for the cultivation of marijuana and over (200) pounds of marijuana product.”
Felony Charges Filed
The district attorney is seeking a felony upgrade for the charges of illegal cultivation based on a provision of state law that permits stricter penalties for operations that harm the environment. Defendants in the case have been charged with “illegal discharge of waste and intentionally and with gross negligence causing substantial harm to public lands and other public resources.”
Anderson said that the case is indicative of law enforcement’s response to unlicensed cannabis cultivation in the area. He also vowed to seize property from owners of land used to grow cannabis illegally.
“Once we can say that these properties are known to contain a nuisance, we’re gonna take the property,” the district attorney said on Monday.
“If those folks can’t remediate the properties through appropriate sentence(s) that we may get in this particular case, then we will work with the county to try to take that property and then sell that property,” he added. “The taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for the illegal conduct that’s been engaged in here.”
Anderson said that enforcing the laws against unlicensed cannabis cultivation protects growers who have taken the effort, time, and expense of obtaining licenses to operate legitimately.
“You’re putting unfair competition on an industry that’s trying to be regulated,” Anderson said about illicit cannabis growers. He went on to compare the illicit cannabis cultivation operation to a counterfeit Amazon distribution warehouse.
“We have a bootleg Amazon selling illegal or counterfeit products out of a warehouse that’s buried underground,” he said. “Who can compete against that? Jeff Bezos couldn’t compete against that.”
Eight defendants who were on the property at the time the second search warrant was served have been charged in the case, including five defendants who have been arrested and charged. Law enforcement officials also issued arrest warrants for six additional people not yet in custody.