ST. PAUL - A nationwide warrant was issued last week for a St. Paul man accused of running an operation that took marijuana grown in Oregon and transported it to western Wisconsin, where more than 280 pounds of it were found earlier this year.
The extradition warrant was signed Nov. 15 for 51-year-old Pheng Lee, who is charged with felony marijuana possession with intent to distribute and maintaining a drug trafficking place.
A criminal complaint alleges Lee was behind an operation that involved cultivating marijuana under the auspices of state-authorized production at two farms in Oregon and overseeing its transport to property he owns in the Baldwin area.
Authorities on Feb. 21 executed search warrants at two towns of Eau Galle properties, one of which turned up 250 pounds of packaged marijuana. Another 38 pounds of pot were found at the other home.
A resident at one of the homes was later charged and convicted in connection with the discovery. That man, Lee's 25-year-old nephew Tom Lee, was sentenced Sept. 7 to two years and six months in prison for felony marijuana possession.
The criminal complaint against Pheng Lee states Tom Lee admitted the pot belonged to the elder Lee, who he described as the family patriarch. Pheng Lee had directed Tom Lee's father to buy the town of Eau Galle home, according to the complaint.
The alleged criminal enterprise was uncovered during a Feb. 15 North Dakota Highway Patrol traffic stop in West Fargo of a truck registered to Pheng Lee.
According to the complaint, the traffic stop turned up almost 6 ounces of pot, baggies of suspected methamphetamine and $7,152 in cash. The truck's bed was covered in coffee grounds, which troopers said is "a tactic used to mask the odor of illicit substances during transportation."
One of the truck's two occupants cooperated with officers and explained the alleged shipping arrangement, which the person - identified in the complaint only as "Person A" - said was overseen by Pheng Lee from start to finish. Person A said the traffic stop occurred during a return trip from Wisconsin.
The complaint states Pheng Lee covered the $500 fee for Person A to undergo a doctor's assessment in order to receive a medical marijuana card in Oregon. In return, Person A listed Pheng Lee as his medical marijuana grower, the complaint states.
Authorities said in the charging document that the agreement "was intended to provide cover for the appearance of legal authorization for Pheng Lee to cultivate marijuana under the laws of the state of Oregon." Person A was able to describe the cultivation operation in Oregon, telling authorities the pot plants "resembled apple trees due to their size," according to the complaint.