A Chino real estate agent is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison after pleading guilty Monday on a federal criminal charge of coordinating a scheme to purchase nine homes in Chino, Chino Hills and Ontario and turn them into marijuana grow houses, according to the U.S. Attorney Central District of California office in Los Angeles.

Lin Li, also known as Aaron Li, will be sentenced March 22, 2021 after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute at least 1,000 marijuana plants, said spokesman Ciaran McEvoy.

Prosecutors allege Mr. Li, 38, used $4.06 million from Chinese investors to buy the homes between May 2013 and September 2017, and convert them into marijuana grow operations.

“Mr. Li also admitted in his plea agreement that the conspiracy trafficked marijuana, with most of the processed marijuana being sold to customers in California, Nevada and New York,” Mr. McEvoy said.

The suspect created and signed false lease documents between October 2016 and September 2018 that named straw tenants for seven homes so the marijuana grown at the home could not be traced back to him or any of the other marijuana growers.

“Some of the false leases contained clauses prohibiting marijuana cultivation,” Mr. McEvoy said.

Down payments for the houses were transferred through wire transfers from China, and titles for the homes were transferred to limited liability companies of Mr. Li, who then served as property manager for the houses.

Authorities began investigating the marijuana cultivation operation in early 2018 after a Chino Hills resident reported there was an “overwhelming” smell of marijuana coming from a home in his neighborhood. The neighbor reported that no one appeared to be living at the home, Mr. McEvoy said.

Authorities seized 4,432 marijuana plants, 91.72 kilograms of processed marijuana from the nine homes in 2018 and 2019. A total of $89,995 in drug proceeds were seized from Mr. Li’s home, the spokesman said.

“Mr. Li also admitted in his plea agreement that these marijuana grows violated California law because they were not licensed to cultivate or sell marijuana, and all of the grow houses were in cities that prohibited commercial marijuana activity,” Mr. McEvoy said.

Pasadena resident Jimmy Yu, who prosecutors allege is a grow house caretaker, is facing trial in February 2021.

A third suspect—Ben Chen, 43, of Alhambra – plead guilty earlier this month on one count of conspiracy to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana.

He is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday, Aug. 17.

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