Two people were arrested Tuesday in connection with an illegal marijuana growing operation at this house at 19 Abby Lane in Whitefield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WISCASSET — Thousands of cannabis plants at different stages of development and dried cannabis — shrink-wrapped in 1-pound bricks — were part of the haul seized in the latest round of raids of illegal growing operations in central Maine, officials said.

Lt. Michael Murphy, special services supervisor at the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, said Wednesday that officers were still processing evidence collected Tuesday at houses in Whitefield and Chelsea.

Meanwhile, three people who were arrested and charged in connection with the illegal operations at the homes made their first appearance via video link Wednesday at a Lincoln County court.

The three — Ming Da Li, 41, of Brooklyn, New York; Wan Ting Xiao, 50, of San Gabriel, California; and Ding Zhan Liao, 49, of Brooklyn, New York — have been charged with cultivating marijuana, a felony-level offense. Xiao and Liao have additionally been charged with unlawful trafficking of marijuana, also a felony-level offense. Because of the seriousness of the crimes, their cases will go before a grand jury.

Maine’s congressional delegation this week renewed calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to “crack down on illegal Chinese-run marijuana operations in Maine,” which they say are worth about $4.37 billion and could include upward of 270 residences.

In arguing for lowered bail, Jonathan Handelman, the lawyer of the day representing people charged with crimes, said none of the three had been charged with committing a violent crime. He also noted that no one at the jail, other than the defendants, speaks Cantonese.


“These individuals are not the criminal masterminds,” Handelman said. “To hold them here on high cash bail is to lose sight of that reality.”

Handelman also said the defendants did not understand much of what was going on, and were unlikely to be bailed out by their bosses, so the risk of them fleeing while out on bail would be very low.

District Judge Tracy Gorham set cash bail at $1,000 for Li and $3,000 for Liao and Xiao, in addition to other bail conditions. The judge citied the seriousness of the charges, the strength of the case against the accused and the integrity of the case in setting bail. She also assigned lawyers to represent the three defendants.

Through an interpreter, Li asked that her bail be set at $800, because $1,000 is all he had.

Liao said he only had $500.

“I have been working for a few years,” he said, “and I haven’t received a paycheck yet.”


Xiao, who said she had only been working for about 10 days and had not yet been paid, told Gorham she could not afford bail.

“This flies in the face of everything that Maine is trying to do with the legal sales (of marijuana),” Murphy of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday. “This is totally illegal sales. None of these people have any permits, and none have tried to get permits.”

Marijuana plants found recently at an illegal growing operation in the Whitefield area. Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office photo

Tuesday’s arrests in Whitefield and Chelsea followed three searches Jan. 17 in Whitefield and Jefferson, resulting in the arrest of two men and a woman, and a search of a Whitefield home Jan. 10, where a man at the house fled before law enforcement officers arrived. He is believed to have left Maine.

A total of six people were arrested at seven illegal marijuana growing operations.

Weihan Liu, 41, of Brooklyn, New York; Huan Yink Li, 57, formerly of New York City; and Zhen Zhong Chen, 41, of Brooklyn, New York, were arrested Jan. 17, following searches of homes at 91 Jefferson Road and 33 North Howe Road in Whitefield and 170 Rockland Road in Jefferson.

Court documents show that they and two others were initially brought to the Whitefield Fire Station to be interviewed by “Homeland Security Intelligence,” before being charged in Lincoln County. The other two people were released at that time.


The first search — on Jan. 10 — of a home at 34 Clover Lane was the result of information received by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office about  possible illegal marijuana growing operations in Whitefield and Jefferson.

In his request for a search warrant, Detective Sgt. Ronald Rollins of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an affidavit that he had spoken with neighbors of the Jefferson Road and Rockland Road properties, who said they were concerned about suspicious activities at the houses, and noted the smell of marijuana coming from the houses. Rollins said a check with the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy in Augusta showed no registration information for either address.

Rollins wrote that he had also requested via subpoena information about electricity use at the two addresses, which showed monthly usage that was more than 10 times greater than normal residential use.

A 911 hang-up Jan. 9 at the Clover Lane house brought Deputy Owen Beattie of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to the Whitefield home. While there, Beattie spoke to Xiangming Yi and saw indications marijuana was being grown at the house, which was not registered through the state Office of Marijuana Policy. Yi was not at the address the following day when a search warrant was being executed.

Murphy said Wednesday that Yi is believed to have left Maine, and a warrant has been issued for Yi’s arrest.

The homes that were raided ranged from a double-wide mobile home to a two-story house with a basement, with only a small living space for the people growing the marijuana.


“There’s a small room, usually the kitchen, that serves as a bedroom, living area, kitchen, the whole deal,” Murphy said. “Very minimal.”

One man was arrested Tuesday in connection with an illegal marijuana growing operation at this house at 754 Cooper Road in Chelsea. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Many of the homes were bought out of foreclosure and in poor condition, he said. Their condition likely made converting them into growing facilities easier.

Murphy said federal investigators are working on identifying the funding that is supporting the illegal growing operations. And while it is not clear where the illegally grown marijuana is going, he said he believes it is all going out of state. When marijuana is dried and vacuum-sealed in packages, it is easier to transport and the odor is reduced.

“Most of the people we have arrested are coming from the New York City area,” Murphy said.

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was helped in the investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, the Maine Office of Cannabis Policy, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Treasury Department.

Darcie McElwee, the U.S. attorney for Maine, said in a provided statement that her office is working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to coordinate a response to the illegal marijuana growing operations across the state.

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