When the Machias Police executed a search warrant at 414 East Kennebec Road in December, they suspected they find an illegal marijuana cultivation site operated by out-of-state criminals.
But the scale — and sophistication — of the operation they uncovered left them gobsmacked.
“We found three Asian males in the barn that were actively tending the grow. Three buildings and the main house… all contained pretty substantial grows inside,” said Machias Police Chief Keith Mercier.
The Machias police confiscated 2,607 live marijuana plants that were being grown across nine different rooms on the property, including in two large barns.
“We did ID all three. Two had Malaysian passports and the third had a New York Driver’s License,” said Mercier, adding that the third man also had a passport from the People’s Republic of China.
The property — once a beautiful salt water farm with views of the East Branch of Little Kennebec Bay — sits on 37.9 acres and is valued, according to RedFin, at nearly $600,000. It has been abandoned by its current owners following the arrests of Ming Li, 52, Dong Yang Li, 60, and Peng You Phang, 61.
Cops also found the wallet of an Asian woman not present at the time of the arrest, along with a plane ticket showing a recent arrival from Beijing.
Li, Li, and Phang were all charged with felonies related to illegally growing a trafficking marijuana.
When an inspector from Versant Power, the electrical utility serving Machias, got a look at the house’s circuit breaker box, he was surprised to see that the grow operators had installed gerryrigged wires that allowed them to circumvent the power meter.
In other words, illegal pot growers were stealing electricity.
The Machias PD said Versant’s best guess as to how much power they might have stolen was “tens of thousands of dollars.”
Electricians the Maine Wire spoke with said the circumvention technique would have required an electrician or electrical engineer with a high level of expertise.
Discarded growing substrates ring the property and adjacent forest like layers of the fossil record — evidence of at least two years of steady, large-scale marijuana cultivation.
The men are unlikely to ever receive any punishment for flouting Maine’s cannabis laws.
According to the Machias PD, two of the men had their bail set at $500. The third has his bail set at $1,000, but only because he had a prior charge for trafficking heroin in New Jersey, a charge for which he served federal prison time, according to the Machias PD.
Just days after the bust, a woman from New York arrived, paid the bail in cash, and the men were free. Although they have a court date this month, the cops aren’t expecting them to return to Washington County to face a judge.
In 2021, a Mass.-based company, HBA Properties, purchased the property where the illegal marijuana grow was operating.
The officers of that company are listed as Fanny Sun, Qiao Yi Wu, Sinh Phat Voong, and Zhan Su.
Building a marijuana grow of that size and sophistication required no small investment of capital.
The heat pumps festooning the property are worth nearly $20,000, while the lights, water pumps, power tools, and other accessories are likely worth more.
But all of it has been abandoned at the property, along with an Acura MDX registered to Kenny Chen, who listed the property as his address on the vehicle registration.
Chen has not been located.
Attempts to contacting the officers of HBA Properties were unsuccessful.
“You can look at the environmental issues, the impact on the grid from the electrical usage, the impact on legal business owners,” said Mercier.
“These folks weren’t permitted, they weren’t licensed, and they were running a very substandard operation compared to what the legal folks have to do,” he said.
The property in Machias is one of a handful of illegal marijuana sites that have been raided by law enforcement in recent weeks.
Last month, cops in China, Maine busted a similar operation at a residential home following a tip that someone was being held at the property against their will.
A few days later, Maine State Police executed search warrants on two properties in Belgrade, seizing roughly 2,300 live plants.
All of the properties are among the more than 270 sites that the Department of Homeland Security says are controlled by Asian Transnational Criminal Organizations.