Agents and officers assigned to the Seattle U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST) seized several properties used by members of an international drug trafficking organization, Nov. 1.
The four properties were identified as part of an international criminal investigation that lasted several years. In March 2019, Qifeng Li, 41, Xiamin Huang, 39 and Qiwei Li, 45, pleaded guilty and admitted that they used money from conspirators in the Peoples Republic of China to purchase homes in the Puget Sound area.
The homes, located in Kent, Burien and South Seattle, were used for marijuana production, evidence of which can clearly be seen in the planters, extensive lighting, and complicated electrical systems left behind.
“When the public hears about a grow house in a state where possessing marijuana is not necessarily an illegal activity, their first instinct may be that this is a victimless crime,” said Eben Roberts, acting special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Organizations like these use proceeds from their businesses to fund other ventures like human trafficking, money laundering, prostitution and narcotics sales, crimes that endanger the lives of individuals near where they operate as well as those they wish to exploit internationally. These illegal operations also rob legitimate businesses from revenue and local government from vital tax income, a loss that is ultimately felt by residents.”
Qifeng Li was sentenced to 32 months in prison and four years of supervised release, his wife Xiamin Huang was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release, and brother Qiwei Li, was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
The taskforce eliminates the barriers between federal and local investigations by providing access to both federal and state prosecutors, while closing the gap with international partners in multinational criminal investigations.
“Partnerships such as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force leverage resources from a wide variety of agencies to successfully target, prosecute, and seize assets from criminal enterprises that prey upon individuals and jeopardize the safety of our communities,” said Adele Fasano, director of field operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Seattle Field Office.
“HSI led BESTs are uniquely positioned to investigate contraband smuggling and international money laundering activity said Brendan Shelley, supervisory special agent, HSI-BEST Seattle. “By leveraging the unique resources and authorities of participating agencies, we are able to eliminate significant vulnerabilities that exist in our trade and financial systems. Seizing these properties and removing the dangers associated with them serves to highlight HSI’s commitment to dismantling transnational criminal organizations while targeting proceeds derived from criminal activity.”