Charges filed in massive pot grow

Not guilty plea expected at arraignment

PORT ANGELES — Multiple felony marijuana charges were filed last week against a former restaurant operator who owns property in Clallam County where authorities discovered $5 million-$10 million of illegal pot plants and buds.

Dong Hao Mai, 47, who had applied for a land-use permit to grow and process pot three weeks before the Dec. 7-8 area law enforcement operation, will be arraigned May 14 in Superior Court.

Mai, the former owner of Soho Bistro in Port Angeles, will be arraigned May 14 in Clallam County Superior Court on five counts of unlawfully manufacturing or possessing with intent to manufacture or deliver marijuana and five counts of unlawful use of a building for drug purposes.

He withdrew his city land-use application Tuesday to legally grow and process cannabis on his Tumwater Truck Route-area parcel after city staff recommended it for approval. Mai had not applied for a state license to conduct the activity on the same property where hundreds of illegal plants and processed pot were seized in December.

Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said last week Mai’s lawyer, Stan Myers of Port Angeles, was aware Nichols was preparing to file the 10 charges, Class C felonies that each carry a maximum five-year prison term and a fine of up to $10,000.

“Mr. Mai denies knowledge of what was going on and asserts that he was not involved in any way with what was going on, so we are going to plead not guilty,” Myers said Friday.

“He’s anxious to prove his innocence.”

The counts grew out of 3½-year investigation by the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team that included regular surveillance of Mai’s properties and eyes on Mai himself.

It led to the Dec. 7-8 seizure of more than 3,000 plants and 600 pounds of processed marijuana at addresses on South Old Mill Road, South Airport Road, West 10th Street, North Baker Street, and Nicholas Road, where Mai had wanted to run the legal grow and process operation.

“With the exception of the North Baker Street house, none of the residences appeared to be set up for full-time residents,” according to the probable cause statement.

No grow operation was discovered at Mai’s Diamond Drive residence, where documents were seized linking him to the grow operation “either generally or specifically,” including evidence her purchased more than $100,000 in plant growing supplies, according to the court document.

Mai was not arrested following the marijuana seizures while authorities continued their investigation into his activities, they said. He will be booked and released the day of his arraignment, according to the criminal summons filed Thursday.

Nichols said an arrest, which would be made under the discretion of the Sheriff’s Office, was not mandatory under the charges and that COVID-19 social distancing measures have limited the county jail population.

“This is the normal process that we follow for folks who are out of custody,” he said.

The charges cover a time span beginning April 14, 2017 and ending Dec. 8.

The probable cause statement gives the following account of the investigation, which began with a call in April 2017 from an East U.S. Highway 101 UPS store to a Homeland Security Investigations special agent:

The employee told the agent an Asian male later identified as Mai had been mailing packages to Missouri that made the employee suspicious, including twice using different names for himself.

Asked for a driver’s license or ID, the customer said he had never obtained a driver’s license and did not drive — then drove away from the store, the employee said.

In May 2017, the agent received anonymous information alleging that Mai was involved with an illegal marijuana grow.

Public records showed Mai owned five properties, excluding the Nicholas Road parcel, which was transferred to Mai by warranty deed in August 2020, four months before authorities raided his properties.

Mai is currently owner or part owner of 11 properties in Clallam County valued at $2.1 million, according to assessor’s office records.

According to multiple surveillance operations between August 2018 to December 2019, the North Baker Street house was “the hub of activity” and the only residence that was being lived in full time.

The same three vehicles parked there that were regularly loaded and unloaded, traveling at the same general time to the suspected grow operations on South Old Mill Road, South Airport Road and West 10th Street addresses. When replaced, those vehicles followed the same routine.

During the surveillance operations adjusted their locations and used wind direction to determine a strong marijuana smell was coming from the suspected addresses.

More than once, the North Baker Street residents loaded a U-Haul truck, travelling to a Seattle address that belongs to Mai.

The address showed “very high” power usage inconsistent with residential consumption, the Clallam Public Utility District bills paid in cash by someone who was not identified as Mai.

The South Old Mill Road, South Airport Road and West 10th Street residences also showed unusually high power consumption “as is typical of marijuana growing operations,” according to the statement.

On Nov. 17, 2020, while Mai was under surveillance, he was observed leaving his home, going to his Nicholas Road property, entering the warehouse, and with other individuals loading plastic bags into two vehicles before leaving, the statement said.

Warrants were served on the North Baker Street property Dec. 7, 2020 by OPNET detectives, with State Patrol Marijuana Eradication Team assistance.

Authorities said they discovered 1,346 plants and 132 pounds of processed bud marijuana, a portion of which was packaged in vacuum-sealed bags at the North Baker Street address.

They said that the interior was physically altered to support a marijuana grow, with raised structures, tubing, plastic wall coverings, blowers, bare wiring, a framed-in ceiling to control the temperature and holes cut into walls and ceilings for ventilation.

“All usable space was consumed by marijuana, growing supplies or walkways,” according to the statement.

Four people slept upstairs in “fairly minimal living quarters.”

The two residents would not give statements through an interpreter.

Authorities said they found 449 plants and 479 pounds of processed bud at the South Old Mill Road address, 460 plants at South Airport Road, and 294 plants at West 10th Street. There were 568 plants at the Nicholas Road address, the second most of the five addresses.

A search warrant was served at Mai’s Diamond Vista Drive residence, where Mai and his wife would not give statements, either, according to authorities.

Seized documents included PUD upgrade bills for the South Airport Road property billed to Mai, including one for an increased-load transformer.

Two bills to Mai from Hydro 4 Less. a Tukwila hydroponic equipment supplier, showed $131,695 in growing supplies and $6,142 in hydroponic equipment.

“No growing plants were located at 404 Diamond Vista Drive that would explain any legitimate growing operation associated with the receipts,” according to the probable cause statement.

There also were pay-owe sheets for pounds of marijuana and money at two of the addresses and Carnation, and a ledger notebook with dates and with listed amounts in the thousands, the statement said.

Search warrants also were served at the unoccupied residences at South Old Mill Road, South Airport Road, West 1oth Street and Nicholas Road.

“All locations had large, active marijuana growing operations such as ballast light combos (grow lights), charcoal filters and ventilation tubes for venting, light and water timers, grow cubes, chemicals to enhance growing of marijuana, and temporary wall structures to separate grow rooms,” the statement said.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

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