California marijuana, mortgage fraud scheme nets 18 indictments

Federal prosecutors announced 18 indictments Thursday in a pot cultivation and mortgage fraud scheme that purchased homes in Elk Grove and Sacramento and converted them into bustling "grow houses" for tens of thousands of marijuana plants.

Nine people are in custody. Authorities are searching for other indicted suspects who may have fled from the Bay Area to China.

The individuals were charged with orchestrating bogus real estate transactions to buy 51 houses in the Central Valley, then establish indoor pot-growing operations using sophisticated lighting and irrigation and stealing thousands of dollars' worth of electricity.

"They came into our cookie-cutter residential neighborhoods and created cookie-cutter marijuana factories," said Gordon Taylor, assistant special agent for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Sacramento.

The indictments stemmed from the discovery of massive indoor growing operations in 2006 and 2007 in Elk Grove, Sacramento, Stockton, Lathrop, Tracy, Modesto and the Alameda County town of Mountain House.

Three people were indicted on charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, in connection with pot operations at 15 houses in Elk Grove and six in Sacramento.

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