Tip pulls plug on elaborate pot-growing operation
ST. PAUL -- A tip from an informant and the overwhelming smell of marijuana spurred a bust yielding hundreds of plants and more than $100,000 in cash from a sophisticated grow operation, Dakota County authorities say.
Four people were charged May 30 with conspiracy to commit second- and third- degree drug felonies in the case: 31-year old Thi An Mac, 31-year-old Nghia Hoang Nguyen, 35-year-old Trang Uyen Mac and 39-year-old Trung Van Nguyen.
Trang Uyen Mac and Thi An Mac are from Burnsville. Nghia Hoang Nguyen is from St. Paul, and Trung Van Nguyen is from Apple Valley.
The Dakota County Drug Task Force first began working on the case in March, according to the charges against the four. The task force received a tip from an informant that Nghia Hoang Nguyen “was involved in a large marijuana grow operation at multiple different houses,” the charges said.
In one location, the smell of the plants was so strong “they could smell it from the curb,” Dakota County Chief Deputy Sheriff Tim Leslie said Monday.
The investigation eventually expanded to five residences in Shakopee, Eagan, Apple Valley, Burnsville and Eagan, prosecutors said.
At least two of those locations were “grow houses” that contained a total of about 370 marijuana plants, the charges said. A drug task force investigator estimated those plants could produce 44 to 110 pounds of cultivated marijuana.
That much marijuana would be worth more than a quarter-million dollars on the street.
A search of another residence tied to one defendant turned up about 4 pounds of marijuana sealed in bags and about $126,000 in cash, the charges said.
The two suspected grow houses had both rigged their electricity to bypass the power company meter and mask how much electricity they were using, Leslie said — a common and dangerous tactic for energy-intensive grow operations.
An investigation into the actual power usage of one of the houses showed it was using 56 times more electricity than the meter showed, the charges said.
Leslie said the operations appeared to be advanced and well-run.
“They knew what they were doing,” he said. “They’d been doing it awhile.”
Trang Uyen Mac and Thi An Mac are sisters, according to the charges. Both told police they had no knowledge of any grow operations, the charges said.
Thi An Mac is identified as Nghia Hoang Nguyen’s girlfriend.
All four defendants were arrested May 28. Trang Uyen Mac and Thi An Mac are free on $5,000 bail.
Nghia Hoang Nguyen is free on $250,000 bail. He has a federal conviction from 2009 for conspiring to distribute thousands of tablets of the drug Ecstasy, the charges said.
Trung Van Nguyen remained in custody Monday in Dakota County with bail set at $300,000. All four defendants are due in court next in July.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.