The interior of the house at 368 West Ridge Road in Cornville when photographed Jan. 17. Police arrested three people and confiscated more than 750 cannabis plants from the building, which federal officials are now attempting to seize, along with three other properties used in what officials say were illegal marijuana growing operations. Somerset County Sheriff’s Office photo

New details are emerging about the inner workings of illegal marijuana growing operations in rural Maine as federal prosecutors move to seize some of the properties they have raided in recent months.

Laborers living out of suitcases, $10,000 electricity bills and elaborate automatic growing systems are among what authorities found inside several of the residences converted into clandestine cultivation facilities.

More than two dozen such properties have been raided by state, local and federal authorities this year, though officials have speculated there could be several hundred illegal marijuana growing operations statewide. The facilities might be connected to organized, transnational crime groups with ties to China, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

As investigations continue into the operations, federal officials moved last week to seize four properties in China, Corinna, Cornville and Machias that housed what officials said were illegal cannabis growing operations.

On March 13, the Maine State Police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raided what they said was an illegal growing operation at 590 Hanson Road in China.

The property was purchased by Xiao Liao for $260,000 on May 11, 2021.

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Though Liao took out a $156,000 mortgage to buy the property in China, federal officials allege she did not pay for it herself. Cash deposits between $2,000 and $3,000 were sporadically deposited into Liao’s account by a third party to cover loan payments, according to court documents filed by Darcie N. McElwee, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maine.

Records show Central Maine Power Co. granted Liao an easement in August 2021 that allowed her to modify electrical equipment at 590 Hanson Road.

The residence’s power usage spiked shortly afterward, at one point consuming more than 11,000% more electricity in a month than the average Maine house uses in a year.

The house used only 76 kilowatt-hours in December 2021, shortly after Liao had bought the property. Within a few months, in March 2022, the house’s power usage had spiked to 20,382 kilowatt-hours, with a bill of $4,027.79.

A kilowatt-hour is a standard unit of energy measurement representing the amount of energy consumed over the duration of one hour. The average Maine household uses about 550 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, according to the Maine Governor’s Energy Office.

In August 2023, 590 Hanson Road consumed 61,619 kilowatt-hours of electricity, at a cost of $12,341.50.

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Investigators said the electricity was used to power an intricate hydroponic growing system. Artificial lighting, heat pumps, carbon dioxide tanks, fertilizers and more were found inside the house.

“The rooms outfitted for marijuana-growing in both the residence and the garage included hydroponic systems and artificial lighting systems designed with timers,” McElwee wrote in the court filing. “All windows were covered up to prevent natural light from entering the grow rooms.”

Officials said that when they raided the house, they found growing equipment on each of the residence’s three floors and inside the garage. About 1,500 marijuana plants were recovered from the property.

Investigators said the house had been gutted and converted into an industrial-scale growing facility, with a small section near the dining room where laborers lived temporarily while managing the crop.

“The living room/dining room area had been converted into a makeshift bedroom where it appeared that people were living out of suitcases,” McElwee wrote in the document. “(The) property was used for commercial growing and processing marijuana, not as a residence.”

Similar patterns appeared at 368 West Ridge Road in Cornville, a property raided Jan. 17 by deputies from the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Border Patrol. Federal officials are also attempting to seize that property.

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Yuling Mei is identified in public documents as the owner of the house in Cornville. She bought the house in March 2021 for $204,000 in cash, according to court documents.

Yuling Mei

The property’s electricity usage increased by more than 10,000% shortly after Mei had bought the property. Electricity consumption at 368 West Ridge Road rose from 39 kilowatt-hours used in March 2021 to 38,074 in July.

The house would consume more than 500,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity over the next two years, with Mei paying nearly $170,000 in CMP bills.

Automatic watering systems, grow lights and cannabis plants in various stages of growth were found throughout the house and garage when officials raided the property in January. Prosecutors said the property was used to grow and process cannabis.

“Nearly the entire house had been transformed into an illegal marijuana growing facility,” McElwee wrote. “Another room, next to the master bedroom, was a smaller room that appeared to be used for the processing and drying of marijuana.”

Officials ultimately confiscated more than 700 marijuana plants and more than 90 pounds of processed cannabis from the property.

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Mei acted as the owner and occupant while profiting from the sale of illegal marijuana grown at the house, McElwee wrote.

Mei, Huansheng Mai and Yiming Hu were arrested in January at the house in Cornville.

Like Liao, Mei has an out-of-state home address. Both women are listed as the owners of other residences in central Maine.

The government’s cases are not against Liao and Mei, but against their respective properties. If federal prosecutors are successful, each deed would be forfeited to the federal government.

After property is forfeited, the U.S. Marshals Service typically moves to resell it.

In general, when deciding whether to seek forfeiture of a property, the U.S. attorney’s office identifies those that are in good enough condition for resale, Andrew Lizotte, the assistant U.S. attorney listed on the filings, said last week.

Many of the residences raided in Maine in recent months do not fit that criteria. Some have contained black mold, potent chemical fertilizers and hazardous electrical equipment. In some cases, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has been called in to assess and possibly remediate the sites.

Such hazards have made nearly all 16 of the sites raided so far in Somerset County uninhabitable, according to Sheriff Dale Lancaster. At one growing facility in Madison, a combination of the humidity caused by marijuana cultivation and subsequent mold caused the roof to partially collapse.

“It’s almost cookie-cutter in the electrical equipment they use and the dilapidation of the homes,” Lancaster said after a raid last week. “It just keeps replicating itself from place to place.”


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