April 5 (UPI) -- Federal agents raided 74 homes in the Sacramento area this week that were allegedly used as marijuana grow houses for a Chinese crime syndicate.
On April 3 and 4, approximately 500 federal, state and local agents executed search warrants at the homes. The agents seized several more houses connected to the scheme, bringing the value of the civil asset forfeitures to more than $100 million in what the Justice Department described as "one of the largest residential forfeiture efforts in the nation's history."
"This was a large-scale operation, with millions of dollars coming into the United States from China," said Cindy Chen, assistant special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigations, in a statement.
Authorities said the agents also confiscated approximately 61,050 marijuana plants, 200 kilos of processed marijuana and 15 firearms.
The investigation into the grow houses has been ongoing since 2014, and the Justice Department said down payments on the houses were usually sent via wire transfers from China's Fujian Province to straw buyers who used Sacramento realtors.
"The houses would then be converted into large-scale marijuana grows that often occupied a substantial portion, if not all, of the house and frequently involved hundreds or thousands of marijuana plants, which were later processed and distributed to other parts of the country, particularly the Eastern United States," the Justice Department said.
In addition to violating federal law for the marijuana grows, the department said the "extraordinary" amount of electricity posed fire and environmental risks in residential neighborhoods, while also creating a risk for increased rates of burglaries and robberies.
"When criminal organizations funded by money from China reach into our cities to profit from illegal activity, our communities suffer," said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott.