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Official: Alleged marijuana traffickers possibly tied to Shiprock hemp farms

The suspects were staying at a Farmington motel

Joshua Kellogg Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
  • The 17 suspects are all charged with a second-degree felony count of trafficking controlled substances along with fourth-degree felony counts of distribution/possession with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to commit distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Captain Kevin Burns of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office told The Daily Times it is very possible the 17 suspects arrested for trafficking marijuana are tied to the hemp farm operations in and around Shiprock.
  • Law enforcement was dispatched around 5:48 p.m. on Oct 8 to the Travel Inn after a woman reported seeing a man move marijuana from his vehicle into the motel room.

FARMINGTON — An area law enforcement official said it's possible that 17 people arrested for allegedly trafficking marijuana in Farmington are tied to the hemp farms being operated in the Shiprock area. 

The suspects were allegedly trimming marijuana plants in multiple Farmington motel rooms as marijuana was being stored in several other rooms in the motel.

Savang Jing, Guoyun Liao, Ji Kan, Hao Tan, Si Qin, Qi You Li, Qin Liang Wang, Jing Jiao Qin, Wei Wen, Pin Hui Gu, Bi Xie, Jin Qin, Zhiqiang Tan, Lian Jiang, Chon Ying Huang, Chun Xiong and Xiao Xia Si were arrested by law enforcement after they were summoned on Oct. 8 to the Travel Inn motel at 1510 W. Main St. in Farmington, just west of the Walmart.

The 17 suspects are all charged with a second-degree felony count of trafficking controlled substances along with fourth-degree felony counts of distribution/possession with intent to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to commit distribution of a controlled substance.

San Juan County Adult Detention Center records show the suspects were booked into the county jail in the early-morning hours of Oct. 9.

The suspects did not have legal representation on the morning of Oct 13.

Capt. Kevin Burns of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office told The Daily Times it is possible the 17 suspects arrested for trafficking marijuana are tied to the hemp farm operations in and around Shiprock.

He added investigators are still trying to determine whether the suspects are tied to the hemp farm operations.

The investigation is taking extra time due to language barriers as the suspects speak different dialects in the Chinese language, as well as other languages from Asia. Burns said the rights of the suspects must be protected.

Burns oversees the Region II Narcotics Task Force and Sgt. Garrett Morris of the Sheriff's Office is an operation supervisor for the narcotics task force.

Region II agents assisted in the investigation of the drug bust.

Marijuana investigation

Law enforcement was dispatched around 5:48 p.m. on Oct. 8 to the Travel Inn after a woman reported seeing a man move marijuana from his vehicle into a motel room, according to the probable cause statement for Xiao Xia Si.

The woman complained of the strong smell of marijuana coming from multiple vehicles with California license plates in the parking lot.

A Farmington Police Department sergeant approached motel room 112, and a man opened the door. The sergeant could smell and see large amounts of marijuana on the floor.

The occupants were ordered to exit the room, and it was sealed as investigators prepared a search warrant.

The occupants of rooms 115 and 215 were also ordered out after marijuana was discovered in those rooms.

Sixteen suspects in rooms 112, 115 and 215 were charged in the case.

A detective noted that it appeared the marijuana was being stored and prepared for sale.

Guoyun Liao was allegedly identified by one of the suspects as being in charge of the operation. Liao was listed by the motel as the "owner" of 19 rooms at the Travel Inn, according to court documents. He requested an attorney after being read his rights and was not interviewed.

Black, heavy-duty plastic was laid on the floor of those three rooms, with what appeared to be marijuana laid on top. 

Large amounts of the substance were spread out on plastic tarps in four other rooms. One motel room had more than 25 large, heavy-duty trash bags full of marijuana. 

A test by investigators confirmed it was marijuana, according to court documents. 

Burns said the marijuana seized from the motel was the largest amount in recent history by Region II investigators in the county.

Neither the charging documents nor Burns specified the quantity of marijuana seized.

Hemp farms

A June 3 Navajo Police Department press release stated the agency identified "grows" of marijuana or hemp connected to a business owned by Navajo Nation San Juan River Farm Board President Dineh Benally.

Shiprock Judicial District Judge Genevieve Woody on Sept. 18 issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Benally and his companies, temporarily halting operations at hemp farms in and near Shiprock.

Benally was accused in a civil case filed in tribal court of accepting hemp and cannabis license applications through the San Juan River Farm Board, claiming the farm board empowered the Native American Agriculture Company to represent their interest and screen all potential farms and farmers applications, according to tribal court documents.

Plants are visible inside greenhouses at a hemp cultivation site on Sept. 23 in Shiprock.

Benally has not been charged with criminal charges by Navajo police.

Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco previously told The Daily Times the agency was not sure if the plants are marijuana. He explained further that plants would need to undergo testing to identify their THC levels.

Francisco also said most of the workers on the hemp farms came from California, and Navajo police asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement visit to see if the workers had legal visas and work permits.

Jail records show most of the suspects arrested are from Los Angeles. 

Tribal police were seeing that the laborers were non-Navajo, but the security guards protecting the hemp farm operations were Navajo, according to Francisco.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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