The house at 24 Guptill Road in Belgrade, seen Friday, was raided by police this past week after authorities say they uncovered illegal marijuana growing operations inside. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — Fake cannabis licenses, retrofitted homes and coordinated planning are among the new details emerging this week about what officials describe as complex illegal marijuana growing operations at central Maine homes.

Police arrested five people earlier this week at three residences in the towns of China and Belgrade as part of an investigation into unlawful large-scale grows that have also attracted the involvement of the FBI.

Police affidavits and unsealed court documents this week allege that the residences have been illegally cultivating cannabis “at least since July,” and that law enforcement had been surveilling the properties in Belgrade for a month prior to the arrests.

“Law enforcement recovered evidence of a large scale grow including fertilizers, potting soil and complex growing systems,” Kennebec County Assistant Attorney General Darcy Mitchell said at a court hearing Wednesday for the suspects linked to the Belgrade operations. “The growing of marijuana at this residence had been going on for quite some time. The facts put together suggest that this was a long-term, large scale grow operation. It indicates that the addresses have ties together.”

Despite the new details, it remains unclear whether the alleged operations are linked to reports of illegal Chinese-run marijuana growing operations in the state. This past summer, Maine’s congressional delegation asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take action against such operations, citing a report that there could be as many as 270 such operations in the state worth more than $4 billion.

A report by the Daily Caller published Aug. 16 cited a leaked confidential memo that it said was distributed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials and detailed widespread Chinese marijuana growing operations in Maine that were not being regulated or taxed. The memo said profits from these operations are being sent back to the country of China or used in other criminal activities.



Changgeng Chen, Bing Xu, and Aiqin Chen were arrested in the Kennebec County town of China on Saturday in a drug bust that police said turned up nearly 1,000 cannabis plants at their residence on Route 3.

All three of those arrested were still being held at Kennebec County jail in Augusta on immigration detainers as of Thursday afternoon. They will eventually be taken into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement before being deported, an officer from the jail’s intake department said.

The Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office says its deputies seized 970 marijuana plants on Dec. 30 after uncovering an illegal grow operation on Route 3 in the town of China. Photo courtesy of Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office

All three people arrested at that residence had immigrated to the United States illegally, according to a police affidavit written by Kennebec County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeffrey Boudreau. None of them spoke English, the affidavit says, though Changgeng Chen spoke with police through a translation app.

“Changgeng told me that all three of them were here illegally,” the affidavit states. “I asked Changgeng how he got here, and he told me he was embarrassed to say … Changgeng would tell me he is in the process of getting his ‘green card’ but did not have one yet.”

Changgeng Chen complied with police during the search, walking officers through an expansive growing operation throughout the residence. Cannabis was being grown in a total of five rooms in the garage, according to the affidavit, with three of the rooms having two levels to them. Marijuana clones (small plants cut off from a main plant) were also found growing in the hallway.


The affidavit says that officers also found several falsely-issued medical marijuana caregiver licenses within the home.

“He presented me a State of Maine Retailer license that was issued on Jan. 14, 2022 to ‘Frank’s Garden LLC,'” Boudreau’s affidavit states. “I took notice to another license on the wall, but it was a different company. I asked Changgeng if he had his marijuana card, which was different than the license he showed me upstairs. He told me he was in the process of getting it, but did not have it.”

No one at the residence was licensed to prescribe, grow, or sell cannabis, according to the affidavit.

“I asked who owned the house, Changgeng told me it was Yu Zhen Cheng,” the affidavit reads. “I asked who he works for. Changgeng told me it was the same person.”

Neither Yu Zhen Cheng’s name nor the address at 1144 Route 3 appears on the town of China’s public property records.

The house at 1144 Route 3 in the town of China, seen Friday, was raided by police this past week after authorities say they uncovered illegal marijuana growing operations inside. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Though Changgeng Chen cooperated with officers during the search, the affidavit notes that Bing Xu and Aiqin Chen were largely uncooperative with law enforcement. While officers continued searching the house, the affidavit says Bing Xu was found inside wearing an expensive luxury coat.


“I tried complimenting his Armani jacket, saying it was expensive, to build a rapport,” the affidavit says. “Changgeng came back out from a back room wearing the same jacket as Bing and told me that the jackets were $200 each and we began to laugh.”

Authorities were first alerted to the growing site in China on Dec. 30 when police received an anonymous tip saying that several people at the home “were abducted from China” and being held there against their will, although search of the residence found no one was in distress.


The first bust in Belgrade was made Tuesday morning at 24 Guptill Road, when Yuequan Chen, 44, of Massachusetts, was arrested and more than 1,500 cannabis plants were seized. Later that day, Li Min Chan, 66, of Florida, was arrested at 140 Point Road, where hundreds more plants were confiscated.

A police affidavit written by state police trooper Marc Rousseau notes that the arrests were made with federal assistance, as members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and FBI were present at the scene.

The house at 140 Point Road in Belgrade, seen Friday, was raided by police this past week after authorities say they uncovered illegal marijuana growing operations inside. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Both suspects were charged with unlawful trafficking in drugs, a Class B felony, and had legally immigrated to the United States, according to law enforcement.


The affidavit notes that multiple large heat pumps had been installed at the home on Guptill Road, likely for the indoor hydroponic growing of cannabis, with the residence receiving a monthly electric bill around $3,675, or 1,400% more than the average home. It alludes to similar modifications being made at the residence on Point Road.

“Based on the high volume of this grow, the high cost of such an operation, and the lack of legal business measures in place, per Maine Statute this individual is running/facilitating a high-dollar illegal business which is associated with drug trafficking,” the affidavit reads.

Residents and local officials had complained about the pungent scent of marijuana, the appearance of industrial-grade electrical equipment at the home, and growing piles of empty fertilizer containers outside the residences.

“Both the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police have fielded multiple calls for service regarding the possibility of an illegal marijuana growing operation at (24 Guptill Road,)” the affidavit states.

Public property records indicate that the residence on Guptill Road is owned by Yingci Mei of New York, while 140 Point Road is owned by Siu Yin Huang of Connecticut. The affidavit notes that “this is common for these illegal marijuana growing residences to be owned by someone who does not live on-site.”



Both Yuequan Chen and Li Min Chan appeared at a court hearing on Wednesday, speaking through a Cantonese interpreter and appearing via Zoom call from Kennebec County jail.

Mitchell, who presented the state’s case against both defendants during the hearing, said that illegal cannabis cultivation at the residence had been ongoing for at least six months, and that Chen told officers on the scene “that he had been sent to work at that address.”

Defense attorney Andrew Boulanger, who represented Yuequan Chen at the hearing, argued that there was no proof that Chen cultivated, transported, or sold any marijuana, and that his mere presence at the house did not constitute probable cause for an arrest.

“Nothing beyond his presence establishes him cultivating here,” Boulanger said. “There is insufficient evidence from the affidavit that he was involved in this growing operation.”

A house at 24 Guptill Road in Belgrade, seen Friday, was raided by police this past week after authorities say they uncovered illegal marijuana growing operations inside. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Erik Paulson, who represented Li Min Chan, made a similar argument, saying probable cause for the search could not be established because Chan hadn’t been caught in the act of growing cannabis.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that ties him to cultivating, no third party witnesses, absolutely nothing in the (probable cause) affidavit that suggests that he’s even remotely tied to any of the properties that were searched,” Paulson said. “He’s not a property owner. He simply happened to be at a location where a warrant was being executed.”


While Mitchell said the large amounts of marijuana present constituted grounds for arrest, Chan had been found hiding in a bedroom closet when police arrived at the residence, implying guilt. She requested Chen’s bail be set at $3,000 and Chan’s at $1,500, with conditions prohibiting both from leaving Maine and placing them on house arrest.

Superior Court Judge Julia Lipez presided over both cases and ruled that police had probable cause to search both residences. She granted Mitchell’s bail requests but removed the house arrest stipulations, saying it was unnecessary because neither Chen nor Chan have established residences in Maine.

“I’m not going to impose the house arrest condition,” she said. “I can’t do that without the place where he’s ordered to be, and I don’t feel it’s appropriate to have that be the hang up … I’ve not been provided information about an address, so I think I can’t impose a clear condition.”

Both Chen and Chan were released on bail around 1 a.m. on Thursday, according to the Kennebec County jail’s intake department. Both of their cases are set to be reviewed by the court on Jan. 12.

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