TRENTON – The Division of Criminal Justice today obtained an indictment charging the leader and two other members of an alleged multi-national drug trafficking syndicate with first-degree drug charges in connection with a $10 million crop of marijuana they allegedly were growing inside five rented houses in New Jersey, Attorney General Paula T. Dow and Criminal Justice Director Stephen J. Taylor announced.
A fourth defendant was indicted separately today on a theft charge for allegedly fraudulently obtaining $370,000 in mortgage loans to purchase a home used to grow marijuana.
According Taylor, the alleged leader, Tuan Ahn Dang, 36, was charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, a crime that carries a mandatory sentence of life in state prison, including 25 years of parole ineligibility.
The takedown in February of this high-tech marijuana growing operation constituted the largest indoor marijuana bust in New Jersey history. It resulted from an ongoing joint investigation by the New Jersey State Police, the Monroe Township Police Department, the Division of Criminal Justice and numerous other local, county and federal law enforcement agencies
Dang was charged in a 23-count state grand jury indictment along with two co-defendants: a woman, Ngoc H. Bui, 35, and a man, Thu N. Nguyen, 45. Those three defendants were arrested in February. Tin Pham, 42, is charged in the second indictment returned today. The defendants are all Vietnamese, but are naturalized citizens of either the United States or Canada.
“With these indictments, we are moving forward with our prosecution of the leader and other individuals alleged to be responsible for the largest indoor marijuana growing operation ever uncovered by law enforcement in New Jersey,” said Dow. “Large-scale marijuana production of this type is a major illicit industry that puts illegal drugs into the hands of young people in New Jersey and generates secondary crimes that undermine public safety.”
“This is a textbook case of law enforcement aggressively investigating an organized criminal enterprise,” said Taylor. “The investigation began with a Monroe Township police officer who was quick to respond when he detected criminal activity while on patrol. It has continued with numerous agencies cooperating across jurisdictional lines to effectively pursue all of the evidence.”
“This investigation showed that growing marijuana can be a highly organized activity, happening in the house next door, in any neighborhood,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The seamless coordination between law enforcement agencies moved this case from a one-house indoor grow to a multi-town, marijuana manufacturing enterprise,” Fuentes added.
“The indictments of the defendants charged in the $10 million indoor marijuana growing operation initially uncovered in Monroe Township is due to the hard work and cooperative efforts of all law enforcement agencies involved,” said Chief John Kraivec of the Monroe Township Police Department. “The ability to investigate this criminal network and successfully present the evidence to secure an indictment is rewarding. We will continue to work together to ensure a successful prosecution of these indictments.”
The three defendants arrested in February are being held in jail with bail set at $1 million for Dang, and $750,000 each for Bui and Nguyen. Pham will be ordered to appear in court at a later date to answer the charges in his indictment. Dang, Bui and Pham are naturalized U.S. citizens. Nguyen is a naturalized Canadian citizen. Dang recently lived in Port Monmouth, Bui in Old Bridge, Nguyen in Monroe, and Pham in Sayreville.
Ten search warrants were executed in February by numerous law enforcement agencies at locations in three counties. The searches revealed five rented houses with large marijuana grows underway, and a sixth house in Barnegat where a marijuana production facility was in the process of being dismantled. Authorities seized 3,370 growing plants, 130 pounds of harvested marijuana, and $66,000 in cash, along with a vast array of indoor growing, lighting and irrigation equipment.
The investigation began on Feb. 17 when Officer Thomas Lucasiewicz of the Monroe Township Police smelled burnt marijuana coming from the chimney of a house on Spotswood-Englishtown Road. Lucasiewicz and backup officers knocked at the front door and detected marijuana smoke inside when Nguyen opened it. They found that Nguyen was burning unusable parts of marijuana plants in a wood stove. Nguyen was arrested.
A search warrant was issued, and the Monroe Township Police asked for assistance from the New Jersey State Police Marijuana Eradication Squad. Officers discovered three cultivation areas in the basement of the home, with another grow area in the master bedroom. A total of 1,064 marijuana plants in various stages of growth were taken from these areas. In addition, the garage area contained about 50 pounds of packaged marijuana. The home was equipped with a sophisticated surveillance system that used four cameras to monitor the exterior of the residence.
On Feb. 18, search warrants were executed for three houses and a Toyota Sienna. Fifteen pounds of marijuana were found in the vehicle. Dang and Bui were arrested at a house in Millstone. Police searched that location, as well two houses in Old Bridge
Dang is also charged with bribery and offering an unlawful benefit to a public servant for official behavior because, after he and Bui were arrested, he allegedly offered a State Police detective bribes of $100,000 and $150,000 if the detective would have them released.
On Feb. 19, police searched houses in Manahawkin and Manalapan. On Feb. 21, they a Barnegat house. Financial records were seized at the residence of Pham in Sayreville, and the residence of Dang in Port Monmouth.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Ocean County. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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