Suspect in Latest Large-Scale Marijuana Bust Posts $25,000 Bail


A Chehalis resident charged in the most recent in a string of large-scale illegal marijuana grows in residential areas of Western Washington was released Thursday after posting $25,000 bail, according to jail records. 

Jian Le Chen, 27, made his first appearance Thursday afternoon on a charge of one count of manufacture of marijuana two days after investigators found 862 plants in his possession. 

Three other suspects were arrested Tuesday but have not been charged pending further investigation.

“Five growing rooms were found in the detached shop, and three of them were active with growing marijuana plants,” according to court documents. “One of the other rooms had a large cooler full of trimmed, dried marijuana bud and grow equipment … There was also a room with hanging, drying marijuana plants and some containers with drying, trimmed marijuana bud.”

Chen was aided in his first appearance Tuesday with a Chinese-language interpreter. 

While the suspect has no criminal history, the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office asked for $50,000 bail citing the fact that Chen until recently lived in New York. 

Defense attorney Rachael Tiller, representing Chen in his first appearance, argued for lower bail, raising concerns about statements attributed to Chen in court documents. 

“There was no interpreter present,” she said regarding Chen’s interviews with police. 

Superior Court Joely O’Rourke ordered $25,000 bail. 

“The allegation here is very concerning based on the sophistication and the size of the alleged grow,” she said. 

Chen’s next court hearing is scheduled for Thursday. 

According to court documents, deputies first received a report in January 2018 of suspicious activity believed to be an illegal marijuana grow in the 300 block of Brockway Road in rural Chehalis. 

Neighbors reported a family bought the property and began doing significant construction projects. Investigators checked the Lewis County Public Utility District records — hugely inflated power bills are a common indicator of a possible grow — and found the property had two accounts. One account was attached to the house, while the garage had a second. 

According to court documents, the power reading for both structures in November was 3,333 kilowatt-hours. In January, the usage on the house was at 9,960 kWh and the shop was at 20,851 kWh. 

On March 20, investigators went to the property and smelled marijuana. They contacted Chen, who reportedly said the shop had 500 plants and allegedly admitted to not having a license to grow the plants. 

Investigators applied for a search warrant over the phone. They seized 862 plants, including drying plants and 279 “starter” plants. They also seized growing equipment including lights, ballasts, fans and other equipment, as well as a van suspected of being used in the operation. 

According to court documents, Chen first told investigators the grow cost $40,000 to set up and said he grew the marijuana for “someone else and they would come over and get it.” Later, Chen said he only grew the plants for personal use. 

Earlier this month, a Thurston County task force seized $2 million in illegally grown marijuana in a raid. 

Since August 2017, Lewis County law enforcement agencies have seized more than 6,000 plants from illegal grows.