Miami Residents Plead Guilty in Marijuana Grow House, Mortgage, and Money Laundering Scheme
OCT 02 -- MIAMI, Florida - Mark R. Trouville, Special Agent in Charge of Drug Enforcement Administration, Miami Field Division, Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Daniel W. Auer, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division, announced today the guilty pleas of defendants Manuel Pupo, a/k/a Tata, Elieser Pupo, Serguey Pupo, Elmer Pupo, a/k/a Elmes, all formerly of Miami, FL. They are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, December 11, 2009 before U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez.
The four defendants, all brothers, pled guilty to a Superseding Information, which charged conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1) and 846; conspiracy to maintain a place to manufacture and distribute marijuana, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 856(a)(1); conspiracy to commit mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h).
As set forth in Stipulated Factual Basis in Support of Change of Plea, during the month of May 2006, an investigation by the Port Saint Lucie Police Department led to the discovery of numerous hydroponic marijuana grow houses in St Lucie County, FL. Thereafter, law enforcement learned the Pupos’ home base was in Miami-Dade County, and that they had set up marijuana grow houses in other parts of Florida, including Northern Florida. During this time, the Pupos had acquired houses and recruited caretakers/grow farmers, mostly immigrants, to maintain the grow houses. Each of the houses had specially designed hydroponic grow rooms equipped with a sophisticated timed watering and lighting system with electric meter diversions. According to the caretakers/grow farmers, the Pupos paid for their living expenses, transportation, supplied and set up the grow system materials (including marijuana plants), and taught them how to care for and harvest the mature marijuana plants. After the marijuana was harvested, the Pupos sold it and paid the grow farmers a percentage of the proceeds, minus the advanced living expenses.
According to the Stipulated Factual Basis in Support of Change of Plea, the Pupos and their associates purchased real estate in St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Lee, Columbia, and Marion Counties, FL, and caused mortgage companies to issue a total of 18 mortgages for the purchase of these houses, by making false representations as to material facts in the mortgage applications.
With regards to the money laundering charges, the Pupos conspired with each other and others to conduct financial transactions involving the proceeds from the manufacturing and dealing in marijuana and mail fraud. The relevant value of the laundered funds was between $200,000 and $400,000. The Pupos used the proceeds to promote the growing of marijuana by paying the mortgages of the marijuana grow houses. In addition, the Pupos would give money to the marijuana grow farmers and request that the farmers return the money in the form of rent checks, which would be deposited into their accounts under the guise of rental income, for the purpose of concealing and disguising the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the proceeds.
The conspiracy to manufacture and possession with intent to distribute 100 or more marijuana plants count carries a statutory maximum penalty of 5 years’ to 40 years’ imprisonment; the conspiracy to maintain a place to manufacture and distribute marijuana counts carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment; conspiracy to commit mail fraud count carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment; and the conspiracy to commit money laundering count carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment.