Driver testifies to using fake Amazon van to move black-market Marijuana out of Oklahoma

Driver testifies to using fake Amazon van to move black-market Marijuana out of Oklahoma

The driver of a fake Amazon van said it was his boss's idea to use the vehicle in their illegal marijuana operation in Oklahoma to avoid detection.

"My boss said it would be safe," Brandon Ye told jurors last week in Oklahoma City federal court at a drug conspiracy trial.

Testifying as a prosecution witness, Ye said he picked up marijuana from 20 different Oklahoma grows for shipment out of state. He was paid $15 per pound.

Those grows had one main thing in common, according to his testimony.

"They're all operated by Chinese nationals," Ye, 43, said through a translator.

The testimony was the latest example of what law enforcement officials have been saying more and more often about the source of the corruption in the state's medical marijuana grows.

"While ... legalization led to ... legitimate cannabis-related businesses throughout the state, organized criminals have overtaken the industry," Attorney General Gentner Drummond told the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee on Jan. 10.

"Our law enforcement partners report that the foreign nationals most often involved in these illegal enterprises come from China and Mexico," he said.

Ye, the owner of an Oklahoma City kitchen countertop business, was arrested March 31 at his warehouse as he and others packaged marijuana for shipment out of state in a semitrailer.

Ye pleaded guilty in September to two counts — possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. He is awaiting sentencing.

His testimony came at the trial for Jeff Weng, manager of a licensed grow near Wetumka, and Tong Lin, a management intern at the grow. Jurors Thursday found them guilty of conspiring to possess and distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants.

U.S. District Judge Scott Palk barred their attorneys from putting on evidence they were in compliance with state law as a defense.

The FBI raided the grow on May 17 and counted 19,661 plants in various stages of growth. The FBI also found $100,010 in vacuum-sealed cash hidden in the attic of the main residence where Weng lived. The FBI recovered a handgun from the laundry room.

Other workers lived in barracks.

Weng told the FBI he was paid $3,000 to $4,000 a month to manage the grow, according to testimony. Lin said he was paid $2,500 to shadow Weng as an intern.

Prosecutors in a news release Friday identified them as both Chinese nationals. “A license under state law to grow marijuana is not a license to traffic tons of black-market marijuana inside or outside Oklahoma,” U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester said. 

Weng is 46, according to the news release. Lin is 28. They face at least 10 years in prison and up to life. The judge will decide their punishments later this year.

Ye said he went to the grow near Wetumka 10 to 15 times, picking up 150 to 200 pounds a trip. He said Lin helped him load the drugs.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilson D. McGarry told jurors the street value of the pot picked up from just that one grow was as high as $6 million.

The FBI began tracking the fake Amazon van after it was spotted at a stash house in Oklahoma City on Dec. 1.

Ye admitted in his testimony to going to four or five grows a week to pick up marijuana. He said most of the time it was transported in black trash bags or cardboard boxes.

He said he would take the marijuana to a stash house in Oklahoma City and later to a warehouse at his business, Arch Granite & Cabinetry.

He said he also used his business van to pick up marijuana from grows. He said he started using the fake Amazon van in May 2022. He lived in Oklahoma City.

On Fridays, a ton of marijuana would be loaded by forklift at the warehouse on to a semitrailer to move out of state, according to his testimony. Some Fridays, he would drive the fake Amazon van directly to the warehouse, according to evidence.

Ye was born in China. He said he has lived in the United States since 2000. Asked why he pleaded guilty, Ye said he had done the crime.

"I think I made a mistake," he said of his actions.

He said he decided to testify in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. He said he was telling the truth.

He did not reveal any details during his testimony about his boss beyond a last name. He said he did not know the first name.

Prosecutors in May began legal efforts to have the property near Wetumka and eight other properties in Oklahoma forfeited to the U.S. government. The addresses of the other properties were listed as Rush Springs, Oklahoma City, Oakland, Elk City, Alex, Watonga, Foster and Piedmont.

Ye drove the fake Amazon van to each of those locations, the FBI said.

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Region: Oklahoma

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