Two big-time pot farmers get five years

TAMPA — Two Vietnamese immigrants received mandatory five-year sentences Thursday for operating what Hernando County officials described earlier this year as one of the largest marijuana grow house operations in recent history.

A third immigrant who dated one of the men received an 18-month prison sentence for failing to tell authorities what was happening.

Hung Phi Dinh, 32, was also fined $2,000. Attorneys said he recruited his brother, Lam Dinh, 38, to provide nighttime security at an upscale Brooksville home at 8264 Nightwalker Road, which they used to grow the plants. The Dinh brothers also must serve four years of supervised release once they're out of prison.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. ordered them into the immediate custody of federal marshals.

Kim Nhung Nguyen, 33, was allowed to remain free until a surrender date is set. She must serve a year's supervised release when she's done with her sentence. She faced as much as three years.

All three defendants live in Hillsborough County, and each pleaded guilty.

Authorities arrested the trio in February after serving a search warrant at the $400,000 home on Nightwalker Road. Federal and local agents recovered 695 marijuana plants.

Daniel McDonough, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, testified at the sentencing that an anonymous tip led them to the defendants.

Someone called to say that proceeds from marijuana grown at the home were funding a gang in Vietnam and that large cash deposits were also being sent to Canada. On defense cross-examination, McDonough said investigators found no evidence that money was being sent to Vietnam to support a gang.

The agent also said none of the defendants ever told who set up the grow house or how it was funded. Authorities said they thought the group had ties to a nearby grow house at 15234 Morgan Lane.

Officials arrested two other men in connection to the Morgan Lane house.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Two big-time pot farmers get five years 10/16/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 21, 2008 2:51pm]

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