About a dozen people arrested in connection with a major three-county illegal marijuana grow operation that was broken up by authorities late last month were formally arraigned in Grays Harbor County Superior Court this week.
All the defendants entered not guilty pleas. Most face charges of illegal manufacture of marijuana and use of a building for drug purposes.
The majority of the defendants were given a trial date of Feb. 6.
Dozens were arrested in raids that started Nov. 28 in Grays Harbor, Thurston and King counties as part of the investigation into suspected illegal marijuana grow operations tended by Chinese nationals. Authorities have seized about 35,000 plants valued at more than $80 million.
Four homes in Thurston County were raided, including sites on 10th Court Southeast in Olympia and Laynard Drive Northeast in Lacey.
The defendants in court last week are all Chinese nationals, speaking either Mandarin, Cantonese, or Taishanese, a dialect spoken in southern China. Some confusion arose over which defendant spoke which language and this was compounded when the Taishanese interpreter was unable to appear. At one point, Judge David L. Edwards paused the proceedings while it was determined which defendants were actually present in court.
Bail has been set at $2 million for most of the defendants, and Edwards denied several requests made for reduction of bail. An attorney for one defendant requested that his client be allowed to visit his pregnant wife in New York. Another defendant requested that he be allowed to return to the state of Georgia, where he had apparently lived previously. Edwards denied both requests.
Those defendants that appeared Monday were among dozens of Chinese arrested in the series of multi-agency raids overseen by the Grays Harbor Drug Task Force. Many of those arrested were later released without charge when it was determined that they had been led into working for the illegal marijuana grows under false pretenses.
On Dec. 8, the latest raid, Aberdeen Police arrested three men and confiscated more than 700 marijuana plants from a house in the 800 block of Stewart Street.
The investigation is ongoing and the Aberdeen Police Department urges citizens to report any suspicious locations to their local law enforcement agency.