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County and sheriff’s office authorities nabbed 540 pounds of processed pot and $140,095 overall from five sites in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties while investigating allegations of unlawful distribution and cultivation of cannabis. The businesses also are suspected of tax evasion, money laundering and operating without workers’ compensation insurance.  Five sites were searched April 3 by deputies assigned to the Santa Cruz County Licensing Office:

— Redwood Skyline at the 2700 block South Rodeo Gulch in Santa Cruz.
— Rooted Republic at the 100 block of Manfre Road in Watsonville.
— Newton Enterprises at the 7000 block of Highway 1 in Moss Landing.
— Monterey Botanicals at the 22000 block of Fuji Lane in Salinas.
— Boutique Unlimited at the 100 block of Airport Road in King City.

The business owners are accused of not complying with state and local regulations regarding cannabis cultivation, according to the press release.

In one suspected scheme, authorities claim there is evidence of at least one business using money orders “in a sophisticated effort to launder large amounts of currency” to avoid paying the Santa Cruz County cannabis business tax, according to the release.

All of the searched businesses were controlled by the same corporate group of people, “who are suspected of directing specific financial transactions to avoid financial reporting and tax obligations,” according to the release.

Recent regulations have spurred an uptick in investigations of a once-illicit market.

Multiple residential properties in Santa Cruz County are linked with the corporate officials being investigated. Those properties also have been the focus of recent investigations linked with unregulated, unlawful commercial cannabis. “Investigators are determining whether unregulated cannabis from those properties was introduced into the lawful, regulated market through the five businesses searched,” according to the release.

No one was arrested during the investigation Officials will consult with the District Attorney’s Office to determine whether criminal charges are suitable. Civil assessments also will be considered. “The total amount of unpaid cannabis tax to the County of Santa Cruz will be determined once business records and banking records have been examined,” according to the release.