Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Support Us
Our SuperFam members receive exclusive bonus content for $5/mo Support Us


In quiet, suburban neighborhoods, illegal marijuana grows can be hidden in plain sight – even in states that have legalized the plant. They also are sometimes connected to other nefarious activities, as Detective Nick finds in today’s episode. Through dogged work, Nick and his team discover two substantial illegal marijuana operations and in so doing uncover a dark web of abuse that’s far more insidious and inhumane.

Guest detective: Detective Nick

Detective Nick has been a police officer for just over 10 years. He has served as a Field Training Officer, Arrest Control Instructor, and was a detective for 4.5 years before being promoted to the rank of corporal where he now serves in the patrol division.

Read Transcript

Yeardley: [00:00:04] Hey, Small Town Fam. It’s Yeardley. How are you guys? I’m so glad you’re here. We have a really sleuthy case for you today. It’s packed with good old fashioned detective work, and it comes to us from a new guest, Detective Nick, who has pretty much had every job you can have in law enforcement. And I’m just gonna say it, along with the usual suspects, has a great voice for podcasting. So, on the day that Nick is talking about in this episode, his job is to bust a huge black-market marijuana grow in a residential neighborhood. And even though marijuana wasn’t legal at the time of this bust, you’re probably thinking that the task seems pretty routine. But as our own Detective Dan likes to say, there is no such thing as a routine anything in police work. And this case proves the rule.

[00:01:00] As Nick and his team get into the grow house, they discover something much more sinister and grim, which, as I was listening, made me wonder, do we ever really know our friends and neighbors. Here is a Dirty Deal.

[00:01:19] Hi, there. I’m Yeardley. 

Dan: [00:01:21] I’m Dan.

Dave: [00:01:22] I’m Dave.

Paul: [00:01:23] And I’m Paul.

Yeardley: [00:01:24] And this is Small Town Dicks.

Dan: [00:01:26] Dave and I are identical twins. 

Dave: [00:01:27] And retired detectives from Small Town, USA.

Paul: [00:01:30] And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State Killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.

Dan: [00:02:37] Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.

Dave: [00:01:43] Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.

Paul: [00:01:50] Names, places, and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.

Dan: [00:01:55] And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved-

Dave: [00:02:03] -out of respect for what they’ve been through.

[unison]: [00:02:06] Thank you.

[Small Town Dicks Theme]

Yeardley: [00:02:11] Today on Small Town Dicks, I have my cat, Petunia, at my feet, meow. And I have the usual suspects. I have Detective Dave. 

Dave: [00:02:22] Hey there.

Yeardley: [00:02:23] [laughs] Hey there. I have Detective Dan. 

Dan: [00:02:27] Hello. 

Yeardley: [00:02:27] Hello. And we have the one and only, Paul Holes.

Paul: [00:02:31] Hey, hey.

Yeardley: [00:02:32] There it is. There it is. The hey, hey. The thing I live for. And Small Town Fam, it’s your lucky day, because we have a new guest on the podcast today. We have Detective Nick. 

Nick: [00:02:44] Hey, how’s it going? Super excited. 

Yeardley: [00:02:46] Thank you so much for joining us today. So, I think we’re just going to get right into it. Nick, please tell us how this case came to you.

Nick: [00:02:55] So, I had been working a big case with Drug Enforcement Agency and the TFO that was in charge of that case, him and I had become close.

Yeardley: [00:03:07] What’s a TFO? 

Nick: [00:03:09] A task force officer. 

Yeardley: [00:03:10] Okay.

Nick: [00:03:10] So, essentially, a TFO is, especially with a DEA group, they’re basically borrowed out or farmed out to a federal agency. So, they work for a municipality or a county, but they’re assigned to a federal agency. So, this TFO, he basically gave me some scraps to look into. [Yeardley laughs] Like, “Here you go, buddy. Have at it.” And him and I had a really good working relationship, and I helped him out on a lot of cases, and he knew my reputation, that I would follow through with that kind of stuff. 

Yeardley: [00:03:40] Does he have a name? 

Nick: [00:03:42] Yes, his name is Ray. So, he basically sent me this tip. This case was a suspected black-market marijuana grow at a residential house. And from my perspective, from the ground level, if I get a tip on a marijuana grow, there’re a few things that I generally have to get in order to execute a search warrant on that marijuana grow. I need an odor from what I believe to be fresh grown marijuana and/or harvested marijuana permeating from the residence. I would usually try and get wages earned for the people residing at the residence, because being the black-market marijuana industry is a cash only business, generally, those people don’t have money on the books.

Yeardley: [00:04:29] How do you identify revenue in your search warrant if you haven’t gotten into the house yet? 

Nick: [00:04:36] Generally, that’ll be a piece of the pie for the next portion. So, the next portion that will get you into the house is the electrical records, which then brings me into all of the finite amount of, I guess, details involved in growing marijuana, which we can get into now, if you want.

Yeardley: [00:04:54] Sure. 

Nick: [00:04:55] So these black-market marijuana grows, they use so much power because you’re essentially building a forest in your house. And to build a forest, you need light, and you need it to be cool and humid. So essentially, you’ll see additional air conditioning units and then the light sources that just draw so much power throughout the process. So, you can see that through the electrical records that are being produced once you get them. So, once you get an odor, you can show that, “Hey, these people are living in a $700,000 house. They have $200,000 worth of cars in the driveway.” And then you pull their state records for their finances, and there’s nothing. It’s like, “Okay, now I’m cooking with some oil here.”

[00:05:42] Then from there, you can write for a production of records, and then you can get the electrical bill. So, with this case, Ray was able to just give me the power records. However, just because he gave me that doesn’t mean I can just go do it. Like, I still have to build that investigation back up to where I can actually get a search warrant. It’s a great jump off point, but I still have a lot of work to do. So, I think it was like a 3000 square-foot house in a suburban area. And the records came back to a Mr. Quo. I immediately went out to the house, started doing some surveillance, started gathering license plates. And what I found was, there were some license plates to a Mr. Quo and there was a license plate to a Mrs. Moe. 

[00:06:29] I was like, well, now I have at least two people associated to this house. Once I gathered that information, now I got to try and start getting odors from the house. So, I would go back late at night. Sometimes, it takes a few times because as the residential black-market marijuana industry has progressed, people have found a lot of different ways to beat the system. 

Yeardley: [00:06:48] I was going to say. 

Nick: [00:06:49] Well and that’s the thing is, like, in the 90s there was case law that if you smelt marijuana permeating from a residence, you could just go in because marijuana was illegal. So, it’s basically almost like a plain view deal where you could just do that. And then once the state started legalizing and there’s medical use, then it obviously became a lot more restrictive. Hence why we have to do so much to get there now. And depending on the state, some states allow for a certain amount of plants to be grown in the house to allow for less. Some cities allow less, some cities allow more. So, the whole thing is just a swamp of jurisdictional issues and state laws and stuff like that. So, where I was working, you could legally grow 12 plants in your house at any point in time. 

[00:07:37] So, what we found was, because I kind of worked in this time of, it was the Wild West of marijuana in the state that I work in. And so, what we found was there was a lot of Cuban nationals that would come into the state and a lot of Chinese nationals that would come into the state. And through my experience in dealing with both of those groups, the Chinese would generally grow indica marijuana plants which are much smaller. So, I think you could grow them in a much larger quantity. And then the Cubans would grow sativas which grow like really big. I’ve seen them the size of a Christmas tree. 

Yeardley: [00:08:14] Oh.

Nick: [00:08:14] Yeah. So, there was some groups that they would have 12 plants, but each plant was 9ft tall. [Yeardley laughs] So, they would try and work around those issues. 

[00:08:24] So then when I was investigating this house, you could legally have 12 plants. And if you had a medical license, you could have up to 24. 24 was the standard we’d use because a lot of the time you’d go into these places and they’d be like, “Oh, I got a medical license.” And it’s like, okay, cool. Well, you still can’t have 300 plants. [laughter] Still a problem, buddy.

Yeardley: [00:08:44] And the medical license didn’t mean you had to be an actual MD. You just had to have a permit to grow what they consider medical marijuana. 

Nick: [00:08:52] Yeah, a permit or like a prescription. 

Paul: [00:08:55] And back in the day, where things weren’t so online, in terms of what the utility companies could monitor from afar, then the people who are doing these grows would often tap into neighbor’s electrical supplies or even directly to the utility companies. Now, is that still something that’s happening today? 

Nick: [00:09:13] It is. We’ve seen that too where we’ve had groups that will drill into the foundation of the house and they’ll tap into the electrical lines under the house and then just draw that power out.

Paul: [00:09:27] And bypass the meter. 

Nick: [00:09:29] Yeah. And that way they’re undetected. And some of them got to the point because of the core process and discovery where they would see how Detective Nick caught them, and then they’re, “Ah, we’re not going to do that again.” Let’s update our HVAC to where now it’s on a time release system, and now it’ll only release at 04:00 AM. Because we know these detectives don’t want to be out at 04:00 AM sniffing around our house. So, then you’re having a hard time getting the odor, and if they’re tapped in, you can’t get the records. So, then you have to revert to other methodologies of finding these people. 

Paul: [00:10:05] This is a perfect example. Criminals in law enforcement, it is a cat and mouse game. And whether we are talking about serial predators trying to figure out how to get away with a crime or we’re talking about somebody who’s trying to do an illicit grow, it’s always somebody’s trying to advance and be able to get away with the crime, and then law enforcement has to figure out how to catch up. 

Nick: [00:10:24] Yeah, and that’s exactly it. That’s the one thing that if we’re resilient enough and we take the time to catch them, we will catch them. It’s just having the determination to get them. 

Dave: [00:10:36] I think a lot of listeners out there probably look at law enforcement trying to take down groves and think, well, why do they care? It’s just marijuana. Marijuana is not a violent drug. I can tell you from my experience, I’ve been to a lot of marijuana grows that were permitted. They’re never in compliance. That’s my experience. And of the home invasions that I’ve investigated and that I’ve been a part of not participating in, [Yeardley laughs] but the home invasions that I’ve investigated, they were all at marijuana grows because there’s cash there and we need to figure out a banking system where they can stowaway that cash securely and not in their house. But I’ve been to some really violent home invasions, and it was all centered around marijuana. So, this is why we do this. This is why we go after these illicit grows. 

Nick: [00:11:31] Yeah, I’ve worked multiple homicides myself that had to do with not necessarily home invasions, but business beefs, where it’s like, these guys have a butane hash oil lab together, and they decide, “Hey, I want to split this business or I don’t want to do this deal,” and people get killed over it. And that’s the one thing too that people forget is, yes, the cartels are mostly moving fentanyl and methamphetamine now, but they still love to make money doing marijuana. They will also put people in houses up here and grow a ton. And if they find out that people are skimming off the top in a surrounding jurisdiction, not too long ago, I think the cartel murdered three or four people at three or different locations because of that. 

[00:12:19] And there’s also a ripple effect to that too, because we know how safe people like to feel in their communities, especially in these suburban neighborhoods, because a lot of these marijuana grows that are being set up are generally in very nice neighborhoods, because what do very nice neighborhoods have? They have houses that are being built with unfinished basements. So, they can go in and they can set up the entire grow in the unfinished basement, and they don’t have to tear up anything. It’s basically like a field, concrete field that’s ready to go for them, and they can just get in there and start getting it going. And when you have people that are being murdered in these nice communities, it sends that ripple effect to the neighbors. Like, “Oh, my gosh, we spent $700,000 to live in this neighborhood, and the cartel came in and they murdered somebody.” That’s terrifying for people, right?

Yeardley: [00:13:09] Right. So, Nick, you have your admin subpoena, so, you know the electricity is off the charts, and you sniff around the house to see if there’s an actual odor. How do you end up building your case? Just from those two tidbits? 

Nick: [00:13:25] So, I go, I gather some intelligence from the license plates at the house, get the values of the cars that are being driven, and then I go out late one night, take a walk around the neighborhood, and I’m able to identify, “Well, I’m getting an odor of fresh-grown marijuana that’s permeating from this house at 01:00 in the morning.” From that point, I pull my state records for wages earned for Mrs. Moe and Mr. Quo, and I find that they have a little bit of income that is being generated from one was like, a hibachi grill. 

Yeardley: [00:14:00] Like street food hibachi grill? We’re making Yakitori here on the street. 

Nick: [00:14:04] Yes. Yeah. 

Yeardley: [00:14:05] Okay. 

Nick: [00:14:06] And then the other ones were from a massage parlor. So, essentially, what you do when you get those records, because the payments being received are going to be through an LLC. So, I would then take that LLC, figure out what that business actually is through Department of Revenue. With that, between these two people, over the last three quarters, yes, they’ve had income. However, between the both of them, they’ve made $8,000 of income over three quarters of a year. 

Yeardley: [00:14:34] So, how are they living in this house and have those fancy cars? 

Nick: [00:14:38] Yes. So, then I compare that to a Zillow estimate of what the rent would be at this house. I compare that to the value of the vehicles that are in the driveway. And then I can also say, okay, well, they’re paying $2,500 a month in electricity. They have $60,000, $70,000 worth of cars in the driveway. And the estimate for this house is $2,500 a month. Just in one month alone, we’ve surpassed what they’ve made in the last three quarters of the year. Now I can articulate. I have the odor. I have the finances. Now I want an updated record for the electricity. So, based off of that, I’ll articulate, “Hey, this is who these people are. This is their criminal history. This is what their finances say.”

[00:15:27] Based off of all these things, and based off of my prior experience in investigating 75 different marijuana growers or what have you, I believe that these people are involved in black market marijuana, which is a cash only business as such, will not be documented by state records.

Yeardley: [00:15:43] And you’re presenting this summation to a judge, hoping that they’ll sign off on a search warrant. 

Nick: [00:15:47] Exactly. We would get our records for utilities and then once we have the updated and it’s like, “Okay, cool.” They’re still burning the same amount of electricity. So now I can say this is now current, it’s not stale. I have probable cause to believe that this power being used is more than that to surpass 24 plants or 12 plants or whatever the law states in that city or state. So, once we got the search warrant approved for the house, it was like, “Okay, let’s go execute this.”

Nick: [00:16:31] So what was nice about this one is we get there, execute the search warrant. There was nobody at the residence, and so we initially start searching, when we go down to the basement, where a lot of these are active, that grows, and at that house, we end up finding 189 plants. 

[00:16:50] However, as we’re searching the house, I was handling the grow, and my partner Zach at the time, was handling the search of the house. The one thing I will put out there is my big thing with doing any sort of search warrant, whether it’s for marijuana, murder, what have you, I’ve always been a firm believer that I only get one shot at this house. So, I want to look at every piece of paper I can. I want to document every single photo I can. I basically want this entire house, at least on an SD card somewhere to where I can always revert back, because I never know what’s going to be important or what could come up later on. So, Zach goes upstairs and finds a desk that’s just, like, littered with paperwork.

[00:17:39] And so, he starts going through it, and lo and behold, he finds another electrical record for a different house. This particular record or bill was a week old. We were fresh. So were cool, let’s just go start writing paper for this second house. We continue the search before we go start writing a search warrant for the second house and we end up finding a safe in the bedroom. We pop this safe and we find somewhere along the lines, it was like, $25,000 cash, and it was on these bindles, and each bindle had a piece of paper wrapped around it written to certain massage parlors. And we were like, “Oh, that’s kind of interesting like, hmm.” We knew that through their records, they were making some money from massage parlors. And it’s not super unusual, obviously, for hairstylists, massage therapists to maybe just get paid cash. 

Yeardley: [00:18:36] But $25,000 is not an insignificant sum to keep in your home safe.

Nick: [00:18:41] Yes, it was a lot. And so, as we continue the search through the closet, we end up finding probably around 600 condoms.

Yeardley: [00:18:51] Jesus. 

Nick: [00:18:51] So we’re like, “Oh, now we’re starting to think something else might be going on,” On the other guest bedrooms, there’re a few other people that appear to be staying there. Pretty minimal property. They have their identifying documents from China, but nothing else beyond that. So, I was like, “Oh, man, there’s something’s.” This isn’t the typical marijuana grow where people are just making tons of money, and just something seemed a little bit darker about it in a way.

Yeardley: [00:19:24] So, while you’re searching the house based on this marijuana grow, there are still people in the house upstairs in these bedrooms? Is that what you’re saying?

Nick: [00:19:33] No. So, they weren’t in there, but all of their stuff was in there still. 

Yeardley: [00:19:36] I see. Were they both male and female or–?

Nick: [00:19:39] There was a male, a female, and then like a 19-year-old boy just based off the documents of the people that were staying there. It looked like they had just arrived to America from China essentially. And there was nothing on the books for anybody else living at that residence either, other than Mrs. Moe and Mr. Quo. So, as we continued the search, we end up finding seven or eight different bills for different businesses. One was a restaurant and the rest were all massage parlors. We had that tingling sense on the back of our neck, “Man, this doesn’t just seem like the typical Chinese national trying to escape communist China to just grow marijuana and ship it back.” It seemed a little bit more organized and there was just much more to this piece of the puzzle.

[00:20:31] So once we got everything settled down there, knocked down the grow, collected all of our evidence, I found the other house, which was, in fact, in our jurisdiction and was associated to Mr. Quo. Once we got everything processed and booked in, I went to this residence to run some quick surveillance before I authored the search warrant and sure enough, I found yet another $80,000 vehicle registered to Mr. Quo that’s in the driveway.

Yeardley: [00:21:00] And how far apart are these houses that Mr. Quo owns?

Nick: [00:21:03] Three miles. 

Yeardley: [00:21:04] Three miles, okay.

Nick: [00:21:07] Yeah and this house is even nicer than the last, much nicer actually. The records were showing even higher, in terms of electricity, than the one we just executed. Since it was so fresh, I didn’t have to do anything, because now it’s like, “Hey, we just did the search warrant. We found this bill that’s a week or two old. I’m just going to get the search warrant done.” Now, the problem we have with those is now we’re on a quick timeline to get this search warrant done and executed because they’re going to know very quickly that we were there when they show up and they see the door has been knocked off the hinges.

Yeardley: [00:21:42] Moe and Quo are going to be onto you. 

Nick: [00:21:44] Yes. they’re going to be like, “Oh, man, we got to start moving some stuff around.” And that night, we worked till, I don’t know, midnight or 01:00 AM and I actually drove back to the second target house at 04:00 AM. I authored the search warrant from inside of my car. 

Paul: [00:22:00] One thing, I want to point out, he just casually mentioned he knocked down that grow at the first house. Now, he’s at the second house and he’s having to stay up late to author a search warrant. Knocking down a grow is no small task. It’s a lot of work. Did you bring in a whole bunch of other people to tear this thing apart or were you doing all the manual labor? 

Nick: [00:22:25] Luckily, I was fortunate enough to be on a team where all of us were pretty hard laborers, [Yeardley laughs] and we had a pretty good system down, so we would just get to work. And thank you, Paul. It is a process. And by the time we’re done, we were definitely sweaty. It’s a lot of work, yeah.

Paul: [00:22:41] I know, back in the day, out of my jurisdiction, the narcs when they would knock down a grow, they’re collecting all the grow lights, all the ballasts. They’re cutting down all the plants, whatever it takes, in order to be able to seize this evidence. And this is a lot of work. These grow lights aren’t your little mini-LED lights. So, you’ve done all of this manual labor while you’re also continuing to have to investigate. And this is something that I think is underappreciated because everybody thinks aspects of this job is just so glamorous. It’s a lot of work. 

Nick: [00:23:16] Oh, yeah, it is. And it’s strenuous and it’s stressful.

Yeardley: [00:23:19] About how long did it take you, for instance, to knock down that grow? Because I’m curious that Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe didn’t return home in the middle of this. 

Nick: [00:23:28] Right. And that’s the aspect you have too. All it takes is for them to just drive by and be like, “Ooh,” when they see the Ford F-150 out front [laughs] and they see all the marijuana on the driveway–

Yeardley: [00:23:40] [laughs] They just keep driving and you never see them again. 

Nick: [00:23:43] So that’s the stressful part, is like, “Okay, have they seen it? Do they know we’re onto them? We got to get this thing done.”

Yeardley: [00:24:03] Nick, how long does it take to knock down a marijuana grow? Is it hours? Is it days? What are we looking at here?

Nick: [00:24:11] So, generally depending on the grow and how much properties in the house, I mean, I would say we’d probably average at least three to five hours processing everything. Yeah, but then on top of that, you’re talking another two to three hours to book everything in an evidence. So, it’s a process. And then I knew that we were on a very finite timeline to get that second house knocked out. So, I sat in front of the second house and I’m authoring the search warrant to get it to a judge. So, once the judge walks in it 7, 8 o’ clock I can just send it right over. And sure enough, as I’m sitting there, I see Mr. Quo walk out of the house and put his trash out. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this keeps getting better and better.”

[00:24:55] Well, the problem was, by the time we got the search warrant back, Mr. Quo had driven away. I was the only guy in the area at the time, so I couldn’t follow him or anything. So, we get the search warrant, and this house was like I said, it was much nicer, it was relatively new. So, we make our way into the basement and we end up finding around 700 plants.

Yeardley: [00:25:23] Oh, wow. And how many were in the first house again?

Nick: [00:25:26] 185. [laughs]

Yeardley: [00:25:28] Shit.

Nick: [00:25:29] So once again, Zach was running the search of the house. He ends up finding, “Oh my gosh, I think it was like over a million dollars in cashier’s checks.” And then we find this actual massage table in the house on top of another 2000 condoms. And then we also find all of the same bills for the massage parlors. 

Yeardley: [00:25:57] And what bills are we talking about here? 

Nick: [00:26:00] Cable bills. 

Yeardley: [00:26:01] Oh.

Nick: [00:26:01] For like when you have your TV in a business. 

Yeardley: [00:26:04] Okay. 

Nick: [00:26:04] It’s like they’re running those just little utility piddly bills through these certain massage parlors and stuff. 

Yeardley: [00:26:12] This might be a leap, but having a stash of 600 condoms doesn’t sound like they’re just giving backroads at this massage parlor. So, my mind goes to a human trafficking operation. Am I in the ballpark there?

Nick: [00:26:28] Yes. And so, we had done some massage parlor stings, but none of us were like human trafficking detectives. Our wheelhouse was pretty broad, but that was definitely outside of our wheelhouse. So, we’re just like, “I don’t know, we’ll just deal with the marijuana, and then we’ll call an adult who knows what they’re doing”-


Nick: [00:26:45] -and see what they want us to do with this. And so, lo and behold, as I’m doing that search warrant, one of the former guys from our team named Garrett calls me. And Garrett is now an investigator for the Attorney General’s office, Garrett calls me and he’s like, “Hey, man, what are you doing?” And I was like, “Marijuana grow?” He’s like, “Yeah, that’s what I figured.” He’s like, “How does it look?” I was like, “It’s kind of weird.”

[00:27:11] I was telling him about the first house and the second house, and then at the second house, we actually found a bill for a third house as well, which was fresh. And then I started telling him about all the condoms and all the massage parlor bills, and he was like, “If it looks like it’s human trafficking or these places look dirty, just call me and we’ll take it.” So, I was like, “Great.” That takes the pressure off me for that one. So, then we get the third house. We authored a search warrant for it that day and when it was granted, we were going into our weekend, and we were so burnt because we basically worked for almost two days straight. So we’re like, “We’ll come back later and do the other one.”

[00:27:48] So, it was like a day or two later, we execute the search warrant on the third one. And we got there and the house was like a bunch of luggage, clothes in the luggage. There was a pretty big grow, but it was all gone. Not nearly as big as the other two. Obviously, we’re kind of bummed, but at the same time, it’s like you got to sleep too, but once again, all the same massage parlor pills. 

Yeardley: [00:28:09] Interesting. And do you think that when you came upon the third house that Mr. Quo owned and you realized there had been a marijuana grow and there were these bills also for massage parlors in those rooms, do you think that Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe cleaned out the third house in anticipation of your arrival because of the other two search warrants? 

Nick: [00:28:30] Yeah, for sure. 

Yeardley: [00:28:31] They were on to you.

Nick: [00:28:32] I mean, it doesn’t take long. 

Yeardley: [00:28:35] Yeah. 

Nick: [00:28:36] So, obviously, at this point in time, based off of the electrical bills paid, we found all the bills for the rental agreements. We had so much indicia that this little, small black market marijuana organization was for sure being run by Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe. 

Yeardley: [00:28:56] What’s indicia? 

Nick: [00:28:58] Evidence. Evidence, basically, yeah. 

Yeardley: [00:28:59] Oh, that’s fancy. Okay. 

Nick: [00:29:01] Yeah. 

Dan: [00:29:02] It’s indications of, it’s very search warrant affidavit, legalese stuff we see all the time.

Yeardley: [00:29:08] Copy that.

Paul: [00:29:09] Yeah. We generally use the term indicia related to paperwork that had evidentiary value.

Yeardley: [00:29:15] Oh.

Nick: [00:29:17] So I’m feeling pretty good. I don’t think there’s a lot more to do on the marijuana stuff. We got almost 30 grand cash. Got a ton of plants. Now I just got to figure out how to seize this cash, because now it has these bindles with these massage parlor stuff. Now I got to try and associate how this money was received from marijuana transactions versus if this was legitimate income from somebody giving massages.

Yeardley: [00:29:41] Are massage parlors legal in your jurisdiction?

Nick: [00:29:44] Yeah, but there’s a lot of what they call rub and tug massage parlors. 

Yeardley: [00:29:50] Ah-ha, Ah-ha 

Nick: [00:29:51] Yeah. And that is where, obviously, the condoms came into plan. We were like, “Well, are these people doing these rub and tug massages as we’ll say in the house or are these massage parlors legitimate?”

Yeardley: [00:30:06] So, basically, I’m thinking it looks like this is probably a prostitution ring and that would tie into your original human trafficking suspicion. 

Nick: [00:30:18] Yeah. And so, me being me, I’m not the guy that’s just going to hand it over to Garrett and be like, “Hey, this is what we got. These are the bills. Let me know what you find.” I’m like, “Nope. I’m going to work myself to death and I’m going to give them a good product that they can’t deny.”

Dave: [00:30:30] You’re not going to just drop a turd in his pocket. 

Nick: [00:30:33] No. So, the other issue with the massage parlors, too, was all of these massage parlors were actually outside of our jurisdiction. So that’s why it was perfect that Garrett called, because being a part of the Attorney General, he can go wherever he wants all over the state. And so, what I found was they were all in the bigger metropolitan area of where I worked. So, the first thing I did was I drove to each and every one of these massage parlors, ran some surveillance. They all had that look of a CD massage parlor that people get in trouble at. There was one in particular that I went to that they were almost like apartments, that got converted into little business offices thing. And it was inside of there, and it was like, 11:30 at night. 

[00:31:20] So I was like, “I’ll just go see if it’s open,” because I wanted to get a picture of the actual door and the sign and everything for it. And sure enough, I go down the stairs, and these two guys my age come walking out with smiles on their face. And then as soon as they see me, it’s like they have this Catholic guilt on their face. 


Nick: [00:31:40] I’m like, “Oh, here we go.” And so, I played it cool and walked past them, and then I followed them out because I wanted to see where their car was from. Because I was like, “Oh, a couple of guys on a business trip go find a nice rub and tug place and go relieve some stress,” right? So sure enough, I go outside and sure enough both of them get in the same car. It’s a rental car.

Yeardley: [00:32:01] You’re in plain clothes, right? 

Nick: [00:32:02] Yeah. And so, then the next step I took was I ended up going to every single website that these massage parlors were associated to. And sure enough, every single website was built by the same web developer. And they all advertised themselves by way of very erotic photos of younger Asian women.

Dave: [00:32:29] Before the Internet, these would have been ads in the back of Hustler magazine and Penthouse and all these. The Internet has changed the landscape. 

Nick: [00:32:38] Yes. All these puzzle pieces came together. So, basically what I did was I ended up putting this 45-page PowerPoint presentation together on how Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe basically had this black-market marijuana organization, and then on top of that had this massage parlor organization and how they were probably playing off of each other. Additionally, based off of the people’s documents that we found in the first marijuana grow, that likely there was a trend of human trafficking here. And whether it was by way of massage parlors or by way of telling people, “Hey, you can come live here and you can come live in these rooms, but you have to grow marijuana.”

Dave: [00:33:23] It’s indentured servitude. 

Nick: [00:33:25] Exactly. And it’s another thing that gets completely overlooked with the black-market marijuana stuff, because you see that so much, where it’s like, “You can either do this or we’ll send you back to China.” This is just the way it is. We paid for you to come out here. So, essentially, like I said, my big thing was creating the predicate acts for this human trafficking case, essentially by way of the marijuana grow. And ultimately, I helped the bigger metropolitan area and the AG, they were able to do all of their investigation into the massage parlors by way of undercover stuff. And they identified that, yes, these were, in fact, massage parlors that were trafficking people and they were ultimately indicted. So, it was Mr. Quo, Mrs. Moe and a couple of other people, and all of them were indicted on, like, 32 counts of organized crime in reference to human trafficking and the marijuana stuff.

Paul [00:34:28] This idea that they have these victims that are coming over from China and they’re now being forced to work in the grow operation, imagine how they’re luring these victims. I would suspect that how they’re doing this is, they’re using some very almost generic term, “Hey, here’s a gardening opportunity, you can make X amount of money, come on over, we’ll provide you lodging, we’ll provide you meals. You just have to stay on top of the crops.” Now they’re in this grow operation and then this is the bait and switch. Now, we’re going to force you to go into these massage parlors. If you want to stay over here, if you don’t want to be harmed, if you want to continue to live. You are now isolated on the complete opposite side of the world from your support system. So, these people are trapped, they’re lured in, and then they’re forced into the trafficking aspect. 

Yeardley: [00:35:29] Do you have any idea how old most of these, I’m assuming it was mostly women who were being trafficked through these massage parlors and these grows.

Nick: [00:35:40] What I’ve seen in my own experience, though, even in some of the massage parlor stuff that I worked on in an undercover capacity, a lot of the time, it’s like women in their 30s and middle aged. And I think one reason it is that way too is because it’s less obvious and less conspicuous than having a bunch of 18-year-old in a grow house. 

Yeardley: [00:36:01] So it’s calculated. 

Nick: [00:36:02] Oh, very calculated. Yeah. 

Yeardley: [00:36:19] Nick, do you know what Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe got for a sentence? 

Nick: [00:36:25] I don’t know. And one of the reasons I don’t know is because the way they were indicted and tried was under a court system that I don’t have access to, believe it or not. 

Yeardley: [00:36:37] Why? 

Nick: [00:36:38] That metropolitan area, there’s, like, loopholes you have to go through to get into their certain court database. Like they’re separate from the entire state basically. 

Yeardley: [00:36:46] Wow. 

Nick: [00:36:46] Yeah. It’s very strange. 

Dave: [00:36:48] Based on your experience, minus the massage parlor and sex trafficking, based on your search warrant of three houses and that marijuana grow activity and the financials, what would you expect someone in your state to get ballparkish, time wise, whether it’s presumptive probation or it’s a few years in prison?

Nick: [00:37:09] Probation.

Yeardley: [00:37:10] Oh, my God. 

Nick: [00:37:11] Yeah. Yeah. It’s crazy. Yeah.

Yeardley: [00:37:13] Do you think it’s harder to get people on a distribution charge now than it was before marijuana was legal?

Nick: [00:37:20] Not necessarily. I mean, it’s just that the penalties are so small now. We could obviously get people on attempt to distribute when they had 200 pounds or like anything that was beyond like a personal use, which marijuana people would always say, “You get them with 25 pounds,” they’re like, “Oh, it’s personal use.” Personal use for what? “I brush my teeth with it or I boil it.”


Nick: [00:37:43] You know what I mean? It’s like, okay, nice try. Well, good luck with that in court. [Yeardley chuckles] Generally, it was relatively simple. I mean, sometimes it was just as simple as following people around and watching them do a deal at Home Depot or something and then doing a traffic stop and they’re like, “Oh, we got you.” 


Nick: [00:38:02] So, now, the crux of distribution really hasn’t changed at all. I mean, if you can get them, you can get him. It’s just the penalty is what has really been affected. There was another one that I had where I had the guy on 245 pounds of finished marijuana. So, bud, like, ready to go and I dropped it to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Dave: [00:38:23] This is why we talk about the power of discretion with prosecutors is probably the most overlooked piece of the criminal justice system. When people are frustrated about sentences or charging decisions, it really comes down to one office has a ton of power over how these cases get resolved. Yeah, it’s not the court, it’s not the police, it’s the DA’s office.

Nick: [00:38:48] It is. Yeah. 

Yeardley: [00:38:50] So, if Mr. Quo and Mrs. Moe got probation, do they seize all the funds as well? Or do they just live high on the hog like they were doing with all the cash that’s left over? 

Nick: [00:39:01] No, I would imagine through that process, they probably got smashed pretty hard, especially with the AG involved. That’s a big thing too in law enforcement, especially at the higher, higher levels, is they like getting money. A lot of our state funding is funded by money from crime.

Dave: [00:39:22] General fund. 

Nick: [00:39:23] Mm-hmm.

Dave: [00:39:24] And this is why we have task forces. Is that a local agency at Smithville PD. If you just do a drug case and you seize $100,000 in cash, unless you have some sort of tie or attachment to a task force which has federal law enforcement powers, that money is never coming back to Smithville PD’s coffers. If you have a task force and you are attached to an agency like the DEA, we can get up to 80% of those proceeds given back via seizure back to the agency that was involved in the arrest at the local level. So, there’s a lot of utility for having task forces because they give us different tools.

Yeardley: [00:40:11] I see. That’s so interesting. So, Nick, you seem to have practically had every job you can have in a police department. And I always say the nature of being a first responder is that your 9 to 5 is meeting most people on their worst day. And I’m always curious how you toggle between being at Code Orange on the job and then trying to fit in with us civilians when the workday is done. Where do all those workday experiences go?

Nick: [00:40:47] I’ve had certain cases or incidents that have affected me deeply. I was one of the first on scene at a school shooting. That one’s probably the worst. If anybody ever brings any of that stuff up, I’ll generally talk about it, because it does hurt. And it’s like, it’s good to feel that hurt for me, because I know it’s good for me to be in touch with how I felt at that time and seeing the kids come out of the school and as I’m getting them out of the school, thinking about my own kids and having to hold it together. And so, for me, it gives me a break to be human for a minute. Because in those situations, for me, although I feel emotions, it’s like, “Okay, well, I got to do this, nobody else’s. So, I got to do this now.”

[00:41:31] So, for me, it’s good to be human later in that regard. That’s not something I shy away from. Outside of that, with a lot of the stuff that I’ve been involved in or cases that I’ve had, I’ve always made a pretty conscious effort to use the writing of the reports as a form of therapy. This is how I teach people now, as far as writing affidavits or reports is, I’m essentially writing a screenplay that I want anybody to be able to pick up and see all of these things from a very detailed perspective. So, for me, when I complete that affidavit or I complete that report and I submit it, to me, it’s in the wind. I don’t follow a lot of cases unless it’s one that I know that I’m going to probably have to testify to just so I can keep it fresh. 

Yeardley: [00:42:23] So you don’t follow cases that you’ve investigated once your part is finished? 

Nick: [00:42:27] For the most part, yeah. I don’t really follow things through our criminal process because I’ll often find that I put weeks of work into this, and this got dumped to a misdemeanor, or they gave this person all these guns back, you know what I mean? Especially tell younger cops that don’t get obsessed with these cases, because when we arrest them or we capture them or whatever the case is, that’s our job. Everything after that, we have nothing to do with and I have zero control over that. So, I will never carry that whatsoever because I did what I was supposed to do and that’s all I can expect of myself. 

[00:43:11] So, I think that’s a big thing for me too and that’s from an emotional standpoint as far as how I keep that out of my head is like, I want to forget about most of it quite honestly. And the more I look into those things or think about those things or some of those cases, it’s like, “Well, this is just going to keep stirring things up.” So, I’m going to hit submit and move on. The other aspect of it too is I miss that work every day. I wanted to do it. I wanted to be there. That was my sport, was dedicating myself to those things.

Yeardley: [00:43:42] To those cases. 

Nick: [00:43:44] Yeah. So, when I completed a case or I captured a fugitive or whatever the case was, it was like, “Here we go. This is why I do this. I love this.” And so, I feel like, from that perspective, there are certain things that I couldn’t do. I could never be the sex crimes detective. And that’s what’s so awesome about law enforcement is there’s people that can handle that, and there’re things that I can do that people don’t want to do. I view that as far as people that I supervise as well as, is like, if I have somebody who is a new dad or a new mom, I’m certainly going to step in if there’s a child death and take that investigation over for them.

[00:44:27] I think that’s one thing in law enforcement that we probably haven’t been great with is protecting that human component, especially of young officers or even older officers, where you know that they’re burned out with a certain thing, and it’s like, “Well, get them out.” [laughs] Let’s move them into something else. Some guys have been working sex crimes for 15 years and you can see the change in them. I’m like, “Okay, well, let’s move them over to financial.” There is no financial emergencies. They can go review numbers [laughs].

Dave: [00:44:56] Right. Nick says exactly how I feel. He says, “No, thanks on the child abuse and sex crimes.” And for me, I’m like, “No, thanks on a marijuana grow or going into a junkie house and searching that.” That is the absolute worst job I can imagine in law enforcement. I’ve been on plenty of those. I didn’t like going to junkies’ houses. I didn’t like the drug search warrant aspect of the job. So, what one person likes, the other person hates. We have to have that range.

Yeardley: [00:45:30] I do think it’s interesting and really encouraging, Nick, that you say you welcome talking about your emotions. Most of the detectives we’ve had on this podcast, they talk about the compartmentalization in whatever form that takes, but the idea that you would actually go toward the thing that hurts is pretty rare. I think you seem pretty balanced and squared away as the guys like to say. 

Nick: [00:45:59] I definitely try. [laughs] Probably fail in some ways, but I try. 

Paul: [00:46:04] And I think it also underscores that early on going to just a marijuana grow and you’re noticing something’s not right here. I always say, if there’s something that doesn’t make sense, stop, think about it and pay attention to that. And that’s what you did. So awesome job. And you probably saved these trafficking victims just horrors that they were probably undergoing over time. So awesome job, Nick. 

Nick: [00:46:31] Thanks. 

Dave: [00:46:33] I’ve heard Yeardley ask that question about where it lives inside you probably over a hundred times. And your response to it was certainly unique and refreshing. I had never heard that response to that question before. Usually, you get maybe one of three versions of it. I like yours the best. Why I think it’s the best is because Detective Nick is basically saying when he hits submit on that report that it’s out of his hands. He’s done everything that he can do.

[00:47:05] I think that creates a pretty solid boundary that us in law enforcement, you can only control the things you can control. And if you start worrying about things that are out of your control, it will destroy you. It will eat you alive. So, I love this answer. I think it’s great. I think it would be great if it was taught in the academies. Different things work for different officers, but you can never have too many tools in your toolbox. And I think this is another tool and it’s just one that’s refreshing to me, I hadn’t heard it before and I identify with it. 

Nick: [00:47:40] Thanks. [laughs]

Yeardley: [00:47:42] Well done, sir. 

Dave: [00:47:42] Good work. 

Nick: [00:47:43] Thank you. 

Yeardley: [00:47:53] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and me, Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. Our production manager is Logan Heftel. Our senior editor is Soren Begin and our editor is Christina Bracamontes. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our social media is run by the one and only Monika Scott. Our music is composed by John Forest, and our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.  

Dan: [00:48:24] If you like what you hear and want to stay up to date with the show, visit us on our website at

Yeardley: [00:48:31] Small Town Dicks would like to thank SpeechDocs for providing transcripts of this podcast. You can find these transcripts on our episode page at And for more information about SpeechDocs and their service, please go to

Dan: [00:48:48] And join the Small Town Fam by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @smalltowndicks. We love hearing from you. 

Dave: [00:48:56] And if you support us on Patreon, your subscription will give you access to exclusive content and merchandise that isn’t available anywhere else. Go to

Yeardley: [00:49:09] That’s right. Your subscription also makes it possible for us to keep going to small towns across the country- 

Dan: [00:49:15] -in search of the finest- 

Dave: [00:49:16] -rare- 

Dan: [00:49:17] -true crime cases told- 

Dave: [00:49:19] -as always, by the detectives who investigated them. So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam. 

Yeardley: [00:49:24] Nobody’s better than you.

[Transcript provided by SpeechDocs Podcast Transcription]