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The interior of an illegal marijuana grow inside a residence on Mercer Road in Norridgewock is seen Friday. Photo courtesy of Somerset County Sheriff’s Office

NORRIDGEWOCK — One man was arrested Friday as authorities conducted the latest raid of an illegal marijuana growing site at a rural Maine residence.

Yibin Zhao, 55, of Norridgewock, was arrested just before 10 a.m. and charged with illegal cultivation of marijuana and trafficking in scheduled drugs, according to Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster.

Yibin Zhao Somerset County Sheriff’s Office

“The search warrant was obtained after a months-long investigation into illegal marijuana plant cultivation activities allegedly taking place at the residence,” Lancaster said in a release.

Zhao was the only person in the residence at the time, the release said. Authorities seized more than 200 cannabis plants from the residence along with a 2019 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck and “illicit drug related paraphernalia and documentation.”

Zhao’s arrest is the second the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office has made this week in connection with the dozens of suspected illegal cannabis grows throughout rural Maine. Jian Ji Wu, 63, was arrested Wednesday in connection with a bust in Canaan.

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office has now busted 17 such operations since January, including two others in Norridgewock. The clandestine growing facilities may be operated by organized, transnational crime groups with ties to China, according to U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine Darcie N. McElwee.

“According to the DEA, there are currently transnational criminal organizations involved in illegal marijuana growing activities in at least 20 states,” McElwee said earlier this month. “The individuals tending these grows in homes across central Maine who have been encountered by law enforcement have been individuals who are either U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents living in states like New York and Massachusetts.”

Friday’s bust was assisted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Homeland Security, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Waterville Police Department and Maine Office of Cannabis Policy.

Zhao remains incarcerated at the Somerset County Jail on $25,000 bail. His initial court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 4.

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“}]] Yibin Zhao, 55, was arrested at a residence where authorities confiscated more than 200 cannabis plants as authorities continue investigating clandestine growing facilities throughout central Maine.  Read More  

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