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Siskiyou County Man Convicted Of Bribing Sheriff To Protect Illegal Marijuana Grows

SISKIYOU COUNTY (CBS SF) – A Northern California man may face decades in federal prison after he was convicted of bribing the sheriff of Siskiyou County to protect his marijuana growing operation, prosecutors said.

According to U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert's office, 36-year-old Chi Meng Yang was found guilty of bribery of a public official, conspiracy to commit bribery and manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants. Yang is a resident of the town of Montague, east of Yreka.

Prosecutors said in 2017, Yang and his sister Gaosheng Laitinen took part in an effort to bribe Sheriff Jon Lopey not to enforce the county's ordinance banning outdoor marijuana grows. During his first meeting with Lopey, Yang offered $1 million to the charity of the sheriff's choice.

Following the meeting, Lopey called the FBI. Prosecutors said federal agents recorded a subsequent meeting where Yang said the donation could go directly to the sheriff and admitted he was growing marijuana on 10 plots of land in violation of the ordinance.

Yang also offered the sheriff $5,000 per parcel for "protection" and another $5,000 per plot for his re-election campaign.

Prosecutors said in other meetings with the sheriff, Yang asked for additional favors including asking the sheriff to send violation notices to competing growers to join the protection racket and asked for the sheriff's help concerning a family member's DUI arrest.

According to court documents, Yang and Laitinen provided the sheriff with a list of properties they wanted the sheriff not to raid. The pair gave $8,000 in cash as an initial protection payment, along with $2,500 in cash bonuses to the sheriff in transactions caught on video.

Following Yang's arrest in August of 2017, prosecutors said federal agents searched Yang's properties and eradicated 1,168 marijuana plants.

Yang faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to commit bribery and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for bribery of a public official. He also faces between five and 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine for manufacturing more than 100 marijuana plants.

Prosecutors said Laitinen pleaded guilty to committing bribery and conspiracy to manufacture marijuana before her case was scheduled to go to trial. Laitinen is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

Yang was scheduled to be sentenced on June 28.

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