Conviction, possible deportation in Auburn, Foresthill pot-grow case

Three houses involved in indoor marijuana-grow conspiracy
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A key member of an indoor marijuana-growing ring that set up hydroponic pot operations inside high-end Foresthill and Auburn homes has been convicted on a conspiracy charge.

Tien The Le, 47, of Sacramento is to be sentenced on July 1 in Sacramento on a charge of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana. Remanded in custody, he faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison and deportation to China after his time behind bars is completed.

A U.S. District Court jury in Sacramento convicted Le after a six-day trial that ended last week. Le was charged with conspiracy in 2008.

Department of Justice prosecutors presented evidence they said proved a conspiracy by Le and two of his brothers that revolved around the purchase of two high-end homes in Auburn and another in Foresthill to install indoor marijuana grows.

The three homes – in the 20900-block of Todd Valley Road in Foresthill and in the 1600 and 1700 blocks of High Street in Auburn – had basements that the prosecution told jurors were ideal for growing large amounts of marijuana.

A criminal complaint filed in September 2008 by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency states that the investigation started with a search of the Todd Valley Road house. Deputies and agents with the Placer County Special Operations and Special Investigative units seized what the DEA termed a sophisticated indoor marijuana growing operation with 1,153 pot plants and about 1,100 root balls and partial stems from a previous harvest.

The listed owner of the residence was a Miao Na Fu, the wife of Tien The Le. A Placer County Sheriff’s detective’s search of nearby real-estate sales showed two on High Street made by Tien The Le’s brother, Tony Le, a Sacramento real-estate agent. One house was bought by Tien The Le in November 2006 and the other was bought in February 2007 by a brother of Tien and Tony’s.

Auburn Police detectives initiated an investigation at the two High Street houses, including surveillance. The complaint said that suspicious activity had started in late 2006 and there were reports of deliveries of lumber, pipe and soil – but no outside gardening activity. Construction noise was heard inside and the basement vents were all covered.

In September 2007, there was a report of a burglary at the 1700-block High Street house and an Auburn Police officer noticed timers, power boxes and other equipment used in an indoor-marijuana growing operation after entering the residence in an attempt to locate a suspect.

A search warrant was authorized and executed on the 1600-block High Street house in September 2007. Inside, officers and agents discovered an indoor marijuana growing operation nearly identical to the Todd Valley Road grow operation, the complaint stated. A total of 911 plants were seized.

While not listing the prices paid for the Foresthill and Auburn houses, as well as another in El Dorado Hills, they ranged in cost from $353,000 to $874,000, according to court documents. The same statements issued by the Justice Department said that while Tien The Le entered into residential purchase contracts on the three Placer County homes, he had an annual adjusted gross income of $17,534 in 2004, $44,297 in 2005 and $45,168 in 2006, indicating that “neither he nor his wife possessed the financial ability to make the mortgage payments on the houses,” court documents stated.

“Tien Le … permitted his name and credit score to be used to qualify for loans to purchase a house he could not afford and allowed the house, and likely assisted in the conversion of his, his wife’s and (another)residence) into marijuana-growing facilities,” the complaint stated.