COLUMBUS, Ohio – As the chief courier of a California-to-Ohio marijuana shipping scheme pleaded guilty Friday, prosecutors said the investigation continued into other possible suspects in the plot that brought hundreds of pounds of marijuana hidden in suitcases to Ohio on private jets.
Authorities say Lisette Lee was the primary courier for a scheme that distributed about 7,000 pounds of the drug and made more than $3 million from November 2009 through April.
"Obviously other people were involved in the case," assistant U.S. attorney Tim Pritchard said after Lee pleaded guilty. "We're continuing to look as we were from the first day."
Lee, 29, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana. She faces 10 years to life, though under federal sentencing rules she's likely to receive the lower sentence.
Frank Edwards, of Hacienda, Calif., was among five others arrested in the case. He pleaded guilty Friday to a similar charge involving more than 200 pounds of pot. He faces five to 40 years in prison, but also is not expected to receive the longest term.
Lee recruited Edwards, 40, to act as a courier and he was not involved in obtaining or distributing the marijuana, according to testimony Friday by Matthew Heufelder, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent.
Lee was arrested June 14 after investigators watched several people who had arrived in Columbus aboard a private chartered jet load 13 suitcases containing marijuana into three waiting rental vehicles.
After she was arrested, she ordered one of her co-defendants to move items out of her California apartment, where she had also at times stored marijuana before bringing it to Columbus, Heufelder said. The government did not say what was moved from the apartment.
A third defendant, David Garrett of Culver City, Calif., pleaded guilty in November to distributing more than 2,000 pounds of the drug.
Garrett oversaw the packaging and concealment of each load in the suitcases and sometimes directed others to conceal the odor of marijuana with Febreze and dryer sheets, according to Heufelder.
Approximately 14 times between November 2009 and June 2010, Garrett gave Lee about $60,000 to pay for a round-trip chartered private flight from Los Angeles to several cities in Ohio, though most often Columbus, Heufelder said.
Lee organized other couriers, figured out each trip's logistics, leased the planes and paid the couriers at trip's end, he said.
Once in Columbus, Lee and other couriers distributed the marijuana to area customers, collected money and packaged it for the flight back to Los Angeles.
Neither Edwards nor Lee commented afterward, and their attorneys declined to comment.