A Richmond home valued at $1.33 million will be turned over to the Crown after the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld a forfeiture ruling following a police investigation in 2007 discovered the property was being used as a marijuana grow-op.
The three-judge panel voted unanimously Aug. 9 that the sprawling, five-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot home home owned by Fan Qiang Zeng in the 9300-block of Bakerview Drive be handed over.
Zeng had argued the judge failed to consider the impact forfeiture may have on his immediate family members and was not supported by the evidence in the case.
He also contended the marijuana grow op — spread out over the top floor of the home — was master-minded by his now ex-wife, Ye Jin Li, who had entered a guilty plea.
The grow op yielded 760 marijuana plants and was on a three-month growing cycle. All five bedrooms and bathrooms contained plants where they were growing under the glow of 31 industrial lights connected to timers, which ran between 12-18 hours a day.
The equipment used to grow the plants was powered by electricity from an electrical bypass, concealed in the wall of the garage. The lights were connected to a series of electrical ballasts in the upper level hallway and powered by stolen electricity.
The side door to the property was barricaded from the inside with a metal bar and brackets to prevent people from breaking into the property.
There was also a living space on the home's lower floor.
The estimated value of the crop was between $255,000 and $426,000.
At the forfeiture hearing Zeng had testified he did not move into the home with his family right away because he had pre-paid for his children’s private school tuition, including his ex-wife's daughter, and that Li was to rent the property out for him.
Zeng also claimed he earned $4,000 per month.
However, his tax returns show that he reported earning significantly less. In 2003-2005 he reported annual earnings of $7,112, $6,331 and $3,821 respectively.
He claimed he made a $360,000 downpayment to buy the Richmond home by placing a mortgage on a Vancouver property he owned.
In the forfeiture hearing, the judge concluded the grow operation was started shortly after the property was purchased and Zeng and his family lived elsewhere. The evidence also supported Zeng purchased the home to operate the business of a grow operation as opposed to a residential property.
The judge concluded that this was a commercial enterprise, amply supported by the evidence.
In the appeal judgement, Madam Justice Bennett stated the judge presiding over the forfeiture hearing was entitled to conclude that Zeng was not telling the truth regarding where he obtained the down payment for the Bakerview property, since he did not produce any documentation confirming a mortgage was obtained on his Vancouver property.
"Mr. Zeng was not forthcoming about many things, in particular the source of his income," Benett wrote.
"It cannot be said that the judge misapprehended this evidence – he simply did not accept it. There is no palpable or overriding error in coming to this conclusion. It was a conclusion reasonably based in the evidence. I would not accede to this ground of appeal."
Bennett also stated that it was in her view that the judge was clearly alive to the issue of any potential hardship to Zeng’s family, and considered when he made the forfeiture order.
"I would not accede to this ground of appeal," she wrote.
The Crown argued that this section has no application to Zeng since he moved his family into the Bakerview Drive residence after the warrants were executed.
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