Just two weeks after the Wilton Police Department and Maine’s Office of Cannabis Policy confiscated more than $1,000,000 in illegally cultivated marijuana plants at a commercial-scale grow near the old Bass Shoe building, the site remains abuzz with activity — and not of the law enforcement variety.
Individuals observed returning to the scene of the crime over the past 14 days wouldn’t have had to travel very far, either, considering how many other similar sites are operating in the vicinity.
According to a leaked Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo — first obtained by the Daily Caller — the Asian Transnational Criminal Organizations (ATCOs) that operated the Bass Shoe site also are suspected to operate several more illicit drug houses in Wilton and surrounding towns.
Six days after the Nov. 28 raid, on Dec. 4, the Maine Wire returned to the location of the grow behind the old shoe factory at 128 Weld Road.
Hundreds of plant root bases — minus the stems and sticky flowers — could be seen in an adjacent dumpster, presumably left there after law enforcement seized thousands of live plants.
Minutes after arriving, a middle-aged man who appeared to be of Asian descent stuck his head out the door to glare at this reporter.
When asked for an interview, the man said, “No English.”
When asked if he worked at the grow, the man said, “Yes.”
He retreated into the warehouse for a few minutes before exiting again, hopping into a dark Gray Honda Odyssey, and driving away.
On the same day, the Maine Wire observed multiple tire tracks from different vehicles laid down in the fresh snow, indicating that vehicles had been coming and going from the scene of the crime within the past 24 hours.
No police were present as individuals came and went from the former illegal marijuana grow, which could have netted the operators an estimated $12-$15 million per year.
On Wednesday, a similar scenario played out when Rep. Mike Soboleski (R-Phillips) visited the location to provide an interview to a reporter from a national media outlet.
According to a staffer on Soboleski’s CD-2 congressional campaign, an individual in a dark gray Honda Odyssey attempted to pull into the warehouse while Soboleski was conducting the interview, but the driver abruptly turned around and sped away upon seeing a group of people standing outside the front door.
The warehouse is owned by Travis Gray, the owner of Gray’s Trucking, Inc.
Immediately following the bust, Gray told the Maine Wire that he had cooperated fully with law enforcement and was ignorant of the illegal activity in which his renters were engaged.
However, he knew they were engaging in large-scale marijuana cultivation.
According to state records obtained via the Freedom of Access Act, Gray was listed as the point of contact for the electrical inspection when the state came to inspect “switches” and “luminaries” installed in the warehouse in 2021.
A source familiar with the building said it had been customized specifically to accommodate marijuana growers even before the most recent tenants arrived.
And when the Maine Wire visited the property days prior to the Nov. 28 raid, a man purporting to be the General Manager of the site said the building was a large scale marijuana cultivation operation.
The GM revealed that the facility was being rented by individuals, not a business, and that those individuals spoke little English, appeared to be of Asian descent, and said they had come from California, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts.
The GM also said that the out-of-state marijuana farmers had also asked, initially, if they could live in the warehouse; however, that request was turned down in order to comply with zoning rules.
Gray did not return a voicemail left on his cell phone.
The Maine Wire visited the Wilton site prior to Nov. 28 based on information contained in leaked DHS memos that suggested the agency suspected that the property was an illegal marijuana cultivation site linked to ATCOs.
According to the DHS memo, the ATCOs operating in Maine have purchased three other properties in Wilton, along with properties in Chesterville and Livermore Falls.
All of them, the DHS memos indicates, play a role in a vast criminal conspiracy that is reaping billions of dollars in black market profits through the illicit trafficking and sale of marijuana, in Maine and beyond.
Although the ATCOs’ primary activity appears to be the cultivation of cannabis, the memo also states that proceeds from the conspiracy are being used to finance narcotics trafficking and human trafficking, and some of the money is being routed back to the People’s Republic of China.
The other Wilton locations, though smaller than the now-busted grow at 128 Weld Road, all bear the hallmarks of residential homes that have been converted into grow houses or marijuana processing facilities.
At 200 Pond Road in Wilton, the Maine Wire unsuccessfully attempted to conduct an interview with a man of Chinese descent who did not speak English.
Through a translator that the man called on his cell phone, an unnamed woman said she purchased the mobile home for her family.
During the interview, the man, who was wearing camouflage pants, was wearing black rubber gloves, which are typically donned when processing marijuana flower to prevent sticky resin from accumulating on fingers and hands.
The property smelled intensely of marijuana.
After the interview, nearby residents confronted the Maine Wire, believing at first that we were associated with the residents of the property, but when they learned that we were not, they spoke at length about their concerns with what was happening at the property.
According to one neighbor, the property frequently smells of propane, vehicles come and go at all hours of the night, the residents often engage in target practice with firearms, and on one occasion, there was a massive explosion, after which the property appeared to be abandoned for about one month.
That property was purchased by Vincent Gai-King Lei, 28, in July 2021, according to Franklin County records. (County records also indicate that Lei has an outstanding lien against his property for $995.24 in unpaid taxes.)
Lei listed both a Scarborough address and an address in Boston at the time of the purchase, but more recent public records indicate his current address is in Swampscott, Mass.
Two other locations in Wilton have also come under suspicion from law enforcement and neighbors alike.
Locals have told the Maine Wire that shortly after a three-bedroom single-family home at 115 Fenderson Hill Road was purchased, the windows were boarded up and the place began emanating the odor of marijuana, a fact the Maine Wire confirmed upon visiting.
That property was purchased by Yan Zhen Chen, 54, of Brooklyn, in Aug. 2021.
Similarly, 39 Bubier Road in Wilton appears on the DHS watchlist.
That residential property was purchased by Xiong Jie Huang, 43, of Malden, Mass., in March 2021.
The Wilton raid marked just the third time that law enforcement at either the local, county, state, or federal level has raided an ACTO-controlled marijuana operation in Maine.
Prior to that raid, a task force led by Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton took down a massive 3,000+ plant facility operating out of a chicken barn in Carmel.
Morton’s task force arrested four men of Chinese descent.
Before that, the Dexter Police Department raided a residential home on Acadia Street, seizing more than 900 plants; however, no arrests were made.
Following the Wilton enforcement action, on the opposite end of the site, the Machias Police Department executed a search warrant Thursday, resulting in the arrest of three Asian men believed to be non-citizens.
That raid resulted in the seizure of 2,700 live plants and more than 100 lbs of marijuana.