PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal prosecutor has charged nine people in the state of Oregon with financial and drug crimes in a scheme that involved defrauding banks and using the money to start illegal marijuana grow houses and fund an interstate pot distribution ring shipping drugs to Illinois, according to court documents filed Tuesday. The case is the first involving marijuana-related charges prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Billy Williams since he issued a memo criticizing the state of Oregon’s pot surplus and the amount of the drug flowing across state lines.
According to a probable cause affidavit from FBI Special Agent Jeff Schiltz, federal authorities began investigating a credit card fraud scheme in 2016. The scheme involved getting Armenians in Hollywood, California, who were struggling financially to provide the defendants with their personal information in exchange for payment. The defendants would then open credit cards in their name. The defendants used the cards and made initial payments on the balances using fraudulent bank accounts, but then told the banks the accounts were bogus. The credit card companies then repaid the banks and the cards weren’t used again.
At one point, some defendants drove 60 pounds of marijuana to Chicago and Peoria and sold it on the black market. Three of the defendants have been arrested and the rest are at large. The money also funded a state-licensed marijuana store in Corvallis, Oregon, where excess pot was surreptitiously packed, vacuum-sealed and shipped out of state in suitcases and by mail, prosecutors alleged. Those arrested will make a first court appearance Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon.