Monroe Father and Son Sentenced to Prison for Money Laundering and Illegal Marijuana Business
Pair Defied State Marijuana Licensing and Laundered Over $100,000 from Sales using Bitcoin and Dark Web
Seattle – A father and son who ran a multimillion-dollar illegal marijuana business in Monroe, Washington, were each sentenced to five-year prison terms today, on drug and money laundering charges.
Kenneth Warren Rhule, 28, was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana and laundering monetary instruments. Kenneth John Rhule, 47, was sentenced to five years in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour noted the size of the enterprise, and the presence of firearms justified the five-year prison terms.
“Not only did this pair produce and distribute marijuana products on the dark web, in violation of the state’s regulatory scheme, they also illegally laundered immense amounts of bitcoin that their enterprise earned,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “When law enforcement moved in there were more than a dozen firearms – some loaded and ready to be used to protect their drug trade.”
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations, with valuable assistance from state and local law enforcement agencies.
Kenneth W. Rhule first came to the attention of law enforcement for his money laundering activity. In April 2018, law enforcement became aware that someone with the screen name “Gimacut93” was operating an unlicensed bitcoin exchange business. At various locations–primarily Starbucks coffee shops–in Western Washington, Kenneth W. Rhule met repeatedly with an undercover agent posing as a criminal who needed to launder funds. Through their conversations the undercover agent made it seem they were laundering money related to human trafficking activities. Rhule agreed to exchange bitcoin for cash apparently knowing the cash was the proceeds of criminal activity. In fact, Rhule offered the undercover agent advice on virtual currency and how to hide the source of the funds. Rhule asked the agent no questions as required under the “know your customer” rule. Altogether, Rhule exchanged $142,000 worth of bitcoin for cash with the undercover agent.
Even as he was engaged in the operation of the unlicensed financial exchange business, Rhule and his father Kenneth J. Rhule, were operating a marijuana products business that had no license with the State of Washington and paid no taxes to the state. The facility, based in Monroe, Washington, manufactured hash oil and other marijuana products using the names HerbinArtisans, Heady.Watr, and KlearKrew, among others. Electronic messages reviewed in the case indicate the Rhules sold various marijuana products for cash or cryptocurrency to customers nationwide.
The investigation revealed that the Rhules made over $13 million is sales from their business with a net profit of $2.5 million.
In asking for prison time for both men, prosecutors noted that they worked to subvert the state regulatory scheme. “…[T]he state has set up a regulatory framework to serve many important purposes, including ensuring the safety of those who produce and consumer marijuana products. The state is also, of course, entitled to tax the marijuana industry. Yet the defendants ignored all this. Perhaps, as is so often true in fraud cases, they were motivated by simple greed. But in running their business in this way, they put a lot of people at risk, and disadvantaged others in the industry who chose to play by the rules.”
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Philip Kopczynski, Casey Conzatti, and Krista Bush.