Three Minnesota men convicted of shipping more than 500 pounds of marijuana across the country were given federal prison sentences in May.
The men, from Worthington, Minn., were convicted of moving the cannabis from California to Sioux Falls, S.D., and selling it there. Each man pleaded guilty in February to charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and one of them also pleaded guilty to money laundering.
The federal investigation behind the case was launched in 2014 and ended in the sentencing of Inpaeng Phady, 30; Keophothone Rounoubon, 23; and Somwang Wong Khanya, 32. Phady received a sentence of two and a half years, Rounoubon a sentence of two years, and Khanya a sentence of five years in federal prison.
Khanya received the longest sentence of the three because of his conviction for money laundering. In addition to prison time, the three men will be subject to supervised probation after they are released.
Shifting marijuana from California to Minnesota
Randy Seiler, U.S. attorney for South Dakota, said the men bought at least 500 pounds of cannabis from a source in California and repeatedly drove large amounts of it to their homes in southwest Minnesota so they could distribute it in the Sioux Falls region and other parts of the Upper Midwest. Worthington is across the state line from Sioux Falls.
The operation also made use of several other people who drove the marijuana and distributed it to local dealers, Seiler said.
Money laundered by various means
Khanya laundered the proceeds of the cannabis sales using several methods, Seiler said. He bought big-ticket items, including 63 designer handbags, wallets, and purses worth about $62,000; purchased gold jewelry valued at $54,000; exchanged cash for chips at casinos; swapped money through various bank accounts; and bought a 2009 Lexus IS250 vehicle.
Khanya financed the car, titled it, registered it, and insured it in the names of other accomplices, Seiler said.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was involved in the case, along with the Criminal Investigations Unit of the Internal Revenue Service. The U.S. Marshals Service arrested the men after their sentencing and took them to prison.
The corridor between California and Minnesota is a common trafficking route for illegal marijuana distributors. The drug is allowed for medical use in Minnesota but is prohibited for any use in South Dakota. There are no plans to legalize cannabis in either state any time soon.
California supplies roughly 60 percent of the nation’s black market pot supply, most of it grown in the Emerald Triangle region of Northern California. The drug is typically shipped across the United States along several high-traffic interstate routes.