(AP) — Two Northern California marijuana farmers have been charged with offering a sheriff $1 million to turn a blind eye to their pot growing operations.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento charged siblings Chi Meng Yang and Gaosheng Laitinen with attempting to bribe Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey to protect their farms from raids. The complaint, unsealed Thursday, also alleges the brother and sister intended to sell their crop in Missouri, where efforts are underway to legalize marijuana in that state.
Lopey said it started on May 17 when Yang met with the sheriff and a department captain in his Yreka, California office, about 300 miles (483 kilometers) north of San Francisco near the Oregon border.
Lopey said Yang offered to donate $1 million to any charity or cause the sheriff desired once he sold his crop in exchange for shielding 10 large-scale pot farms from raids. Siskiyou County bars the outdoor marijuana farms and limits the number of indoor gardens to 12 plants.
Lopey contacted federal authorities after the meeting and agreed to pretend to cooperate with Yang while secretly recording subsequent encounters. He met with Yang six more times and received $10,500 in cash as partial payment. Yang’s sister accompanied him to several of the meetings and gave the sheriff cash at one.
Yang was arrested Thursday and is scheduled to make an appearance in court Friday. Officials are still trying to find Laitinen.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Lauren Horwood said Yang does not yet have a lawyer.
Lopey said deputies raided the farms Yang wanted protected, arresting 13 people and uprooting about 1,000 plants.
Rural counties throughout California have experienced a large influx of marijuana growers seeking to cash in on growing demand in the state and across the country. California was the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in 1999 and voters in November legalized the recreational use of pot. Missouri and several other states are considering similar legalization laws.
In response, farmers have been snapping up inexpensive land in rural California while others trespass on state and federal lands to grow.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed by a large volume of marijuana growers,” Lopey said. “It’s transforming our community significantly and negatively.”