‘Hidden in plain sight': Money sent from China used to buy local homes for drug trafficking

VIDEO: Drug trafficking raids in King, Pierce counties

Federal investigators say money that flowed in from China was used to purchase homes from South Seattle to Burien as part of an international drug trafficking operation that resulted in raids in King and Pierce counties and the arrests of three people, a Chinese national and two Chinese-Americans, who have been sentenced to prison.

Qifeng Li, Xiamin Huang and Qiwei Li pleaded guilty in March and were sentenced between 30 months to two years in prison after admitting to using money from accomplices in China to purchase local homes to grow marijuana, according to investigators, who said they then shipped pot out of state by the pound.

Four homes connected to the drug trafficking were recently seized by the Border Enforcement Security Taskforce.

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Court documents list six homes in South Seattle, Skyway, Burien, Kent and Tacoma that were either associated with or directly purchased by the trio to grow marijuana. Costly monthly electricity bills and energy usage helped uncover the illegal operation.

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"When the public hears about a grow house in a state where possessing marijuana is not necessarily an illegal activity, their first instinct may be that this is a victimless crime," said Eben Roberts, acting special agent in charge of HSI Seattle, in a news release sent to KIRO 7. "But that couldn't be farther from the truth. Organizations like these use proceeds from their businesses to fund other ventures like human trafficking, money laundering, prostitution and narcotics sales, crimes that endanger the lives of individuals near where they operate as well as those they wish to exploit internationally. These illegal operations also rob legitimate businesses from revenue and local government from vital tax income, a loss that is ultimately felt by residents."

Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and local police were all involved in the investigation.

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the Chinese national now faces deportation when released from prison.