By Linhchi Nguyen
RIVERSIDE – Law enforcement officers testified in Riverside County Superior Court last week they uncovered two illegal indoor residential marijuana grows in the county of Riverside, which they believe are a part of an organized unlawful marijuana cultivation enterprise involving about 23 illegal residences.
Two co-defendants, Chen Cuizheng and Tsen Kang, appeared in court.
Along with testimonies from the police officers about finding the marijuana grows, they also identified a suspicious van that traveled between the locations and a lot of electrical wiring throughout the house.
Prosecutor Lauren D. (last name not clearly captured through the audio) called the Supervisor for Southern California Edison as a third witness to confirm an illegal electrical by-pass that allowed the houses to steal thousands of dollars’ worth of utilities for their marijuana grows.
Marshall explained that when conducting a cannabis cultivation investigation, he typically looks for three tell-tale signs: If one can faintly smell the marijuana from outside the house, if most or all of the windows are covered from within, and if the Edison is complaining that too much power is being used in one house.
Marshall stated that during the three months leading up to June 19, all three of these factors were present on multiple occasions. Prior to his investigation, another officer observed a van on March 17, 2020 that drove from the Water Leaf house to another house in Caseros Way.
“The house in Caseros is also identified as a part of this group with unlawful marijuana cultivation,” said Marshall.
In fact, Marshall ran the license plate of the van and found that the car had a previous license plate assigned to it within the past month. Marshall was familiar with the previous license plate, stating that he “actually conducted a vehicle stop with the same van leaving a house, which was also found to be a marijuana grower.”
Although Marshall was not present when the officers entered the Water Leaf house in June, he claimed to identify one of the defendants in the middle of his investigation.
The second witness, Officer Josep Payan, testified to entering the Water Leaf house with other Riverside police on June 19, 2020.
He explained that they arrived around 8 a.m. made an announcement to demand the inhabitants to step out of the house. A male and female occupant then walked out, one after another, and Payan confirmed them as the co-defendants, Chen Cuizheng and Tsen Kang.
Inside, Payan found marijuana plants in various stages of growth, along with fans and humidifiers throughout the house. He described them to be around “four feet high [and] three feet wide.” Upstairs, he also discovered an electrical panel that was “clearly not made by the manufacturer.”
Inside the kitchen, there was a mattress, along with male and female clothing, food, and water. According to Payan, the evidence indicated that “someone was living in there full-time.”
Furthermore, one of the neighbors told the police that the male defendant purchased the house a year prior to the search warrant. The neighbor also claimed to have seen the defendant many times driving in his minivan.
Lastly, for the third witness, Sean Bilbrew, the Supervisor for Southern California Edison in the Bill Services Department, testified to the utility theft of the house which he discovered on June 19, 2020.
He walked towards the garage, where a section of drywall was cut, and after looking into it, he found an illegal electrical by-pass that had additional wires in the panel to allow for an excess amount of electricity to circulate in the house.
After, Bilbrew turned on all the lights in the house to calculate the total amps of the cables, and it was clear that the house was taking in electricity from other sources that exceeded what was being reported in their billing.
As Deputy Marshall mentioned, the Water Leaf house was just one of 23 residents that have been operating illegal indoor marijuana grows within Riverside County. While investigating each of these grows, San Jacinto SET determined that they all belonged to the same group of individuals originating out of the Los Angeles area.
During the warrant service, a total of approximately 20,000 plants were eradicated from these residences, along with 100 pounds of processed marijuana. The California Edison estimated a total theft of utilities from 15 separate indoor grows to be $1,705,066. Approximately $1 million in was collected for asset forfeiture from these locations.
Given all the evidence provided by the three witnesses, the judge ordered Cuizheng and Kang to answer on their charges when they return to the Riverside County Superior Court. Other suspects involved in this crime are currently being investigated.
Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.
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