Six Charged in Over $2.1 Million Mortgage Fraud Scheme/Indoor Pot House Operation in Fresno and Mendocino Counties
FEB 22 -- FRESNO, Calif.—United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced today the unsealing of a federal indictment charging six Fresno area and S.F. Bay Area residents with fraudulently obtaining over $2.1 million in residential home loans for the purpose of converting those homes into indoor marijuana cultivation operations. The six charged are ANDY LIENG, aka Xi Andy Lieng, Jr., aka Andy Xi Lieng, Jr., 41, of Fresno; JENNY CHI HA, aka Phuong A. Ha, 42, of Fresno; TONY LIENG, aka Ung A. Lieng, 37, of Clovis; LYNN TRUONG, aka Linh Thi Truong, 38, of Clovis; SHIRLEY WONG, aka Ngoc Le Vuong, 42, of San Jose; and MONIQUE LE NGUYEN, aka Monique Dzung Le, 59, of Milpitas.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation sponsored by the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). OCDETF is a focused interagency program investigating and prosecuting the most significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) led the investigation with assistance from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Clovis Police Department, Fresno Fire Department and Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Primary support for the mortgage fraud portion of the investigation was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office own in-house Mortgage Fraud Task Force.
The indictment charges each defendant with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and twelve counts of mail fraud in connection with mortgage fraud involving five residential properties in Fresno and Mendocino Counties. The indictment further charges that defendants ANDY LIENG and HA were involved in a marijuana conspiracy, cultivated marijuana, and maintained homes at two locations in Fresno for the purpose of cultivating marijuana indoors. In addition, the indictment seeks the forfeiture of $2,109,550, representing the amount of fraudulently obtained home financing, as well as a residence in Willits, Mendocino County, which was used to grow over 800 marijuana plants. The other four properties, which were obtained as a result of the mortgage fraud, have all gone into foreclosure, resulting in a significant loss to the lenders.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen A. Escobar and Deanna Martinez who are prosecuting this operation, the investigation began as a result of a fire caused by the diversion of electricity at one of the houses on Villa Avenue in southeast Fresno. While Fresno firefighters were containing the fire, they discovered a sophisticated marijuana operation within the residence. The firefighters contacted the Fresno County Sheriff's Office and narcotics detectives found approximately 862 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of more than $2 million. Detectives were then able to link the Villa property with another residence on Donner Avenue in Fresno, where they found an even bigger indoor growing operation consisting of over 900 marijuana plants.
Yesterday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sandra M. Snyder in Fresno characterized this as “an extremely serious case” involving significant overlap between the mortgage fraud scheme and indoor marijuana cultivation operation. She then ordered NGUYEN, a former mortgage broker to remain in jail pending trial. Magistrate Snyder also set a status conference date for all the defendants to appear before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on March 12.
U.S. Attorney Wagner said, “The prosecution of mortgage fraud cases is a top priority of this office. The mortgage fraud conduct alleged in this case not only caused significant economic harm to the lenders and, ultimately, the American taxpayers, but allowed the defendants to conceal their illegal and unsafe marijuana cultivation operations in our neighborhoods.”
DEA Special Agent in Charge Williams stated, “Operation Green House targeted an organization whose marijuana growing operations put neighborhoods at risk by exposing them to fire, fraud, and foreclosure. DEA will continue to collaborate with federal, state, and local partners to protect law abiding citizens from individuals who wreak such havoc.”
If convicted of the mortgage fraud conspiracy and charges, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1,000,000 as to each count. The drug conspiracy and cultivation charge carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years, a maximum prison term of life, and a fine of up to $4,000,000. The charge of maintaining a place for manufacturing marijuana carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a fine of up to $500,000.
The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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