FRESNO — Federal and local law enforcement officials put an end to a medical marijuana scam that originated in Fresno County and spanned across state lines.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. District Attorney revealed on Monday the indictment of three suspects from Fresno and three suspects from Massachusetts in this major marijuana distribution case.
According to the sheriff’s department, the criminal operation was growing thousands of pounds of marijuana at Central and Valentine avenues, just outside of Fresno. The marijuana was supposedly being grown for medical uses, but in reality the pot was being sent and sold across state lines for high prices.
In California, marijuana sells for about $1,000 a pound on the open market, said Mark Cullers, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District. On the East Coast it sells for about $3,000 a pound.
The suspects in the case were transporting the marijuana to Tennessee, Utah and Massachusetts.
Undercover sheriff’s deputies were able to recover millions of dollars worth of marijuana. The suspects were growing exotic vegetables around the marijuana in an attempt to disguise the illegal activity, according to officials.
Sheriff Margaret Mims said the suspects were using their medical marijuana cards as an excuse to grow and sell their pot across country.
“We will not allow the medicinal collectives to be used as a cover and a sham to traffic marijuana across the United States and maybe even points beyond,” Mims said.
The Fresno residents charged in the case were Bounepheng Savongsy, 50; Phousangkhy Phanthadeth, 37; and Manop Souksavath, 37. They are facing 10 years to life in prison if convicted, and will have to pay fines reaching up to $8 million.