Pregnant Bothell woman faces federal prison for illegal marijuana ring

A pregnant Bothell woman faces the prospect of giving birth in jail after pleading guilty to running a marijuana ring with her husband four months before it was legalized in Washington state.

Thi Nguyen Tram Bui was scheduled for a sentencing this morning by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour at the federal courthouse in Seattle. She is not currently jailed. The Reporter will update this story when the sentencing is known.

Bui and her husband Keith Ly were charged by the U.S Attorney's Office with growing marijuana in gardens planted inside three suburban homes in Seattle from 2011 to February 2012. The ring was allegedly discovered after Bui was pulled over by law enforcement and police found more than one pound of marijuana in the driver's seat of her Mercedes and $8,900 cash.

Bui and Ly attempted to convince investigators the marijuana was a delivery of medical marijuana, according to charging papers.

A suburban King County drug task force began watching Bui and Ly and allegedly discovered drug rings at three locations.

One grow was discovered in May 2012 after an electrical fire broke out at a Renton home it was planted in, according to charging papers. Officers seized 700 plants from the Quincy Avenue Northwest home.

Grows were allegedly found at a Shoreline and Marysville home owned by Ly. Around 1,189 plants and 29 pounds of marijuana were discovered and seized.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a four-year prison sentence for Bui for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana. If Bui serves this sentence, she will be behind bars when her child is born in January. Ly is slated to face a jury later this year.

Bui's defense attorney, David Gehrke, asked the judge to delay imposition of Bui's sentence until two months after her child is born, for the health of both his client and her child.

"Her punishment is already steamrolling toward a horrendous sentence," Gherke said in court papers. "What worse can visit upon a mother than to be separated from one's child at birth and then be deported from the country she now calls home?"

Gehrke also pointed out that the country is moving toward marijuana legalization and that legalization of the drug in Washington and Oregon has not prompted spikes in high-driving arrests and the general national trend toward fewer violent crimes continues.

Washington's decriminalization scheme allows only licensed growers to produce marijuana for sale. While restrictions on the size and shape of those gardens vary by locale, none can be licensed in homes located in neighborhoods or near schools.

In writing the court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Vogel alleged that Bui led the operation, ran it day to day and hired workers to tend to the marijuana. The prosecutor claimed that by doing so, Bui threatened the safety of those living near the homes where the marijuana grows were located.

"Marijuana grows, like drug stash houses, are a matter of public safety," Vogel wrote. "They attract additional criminal conduct and invite violent behavior. Through their conduct, driven purely by personal greed, Ms. Bui and her associates placed innocent people at risk."

Gehrke said no violence was reported in connection with the ring Bui was involved in and that his client used the money she made to help her pay her bills after a life of struggle.

"She has shown that she is a survivor," Gherke said.

Bui was born in Vietnam and came to the United States after marrying an American citizen, but Bui got divorced before gaining her citizenship. Gherke claimed she has struggled to make a living since then, working in casinos, modeling, participating in beauty pageants and, currently, selling marijuana.

As a deportable person, Bui won't be eligible for early release or preferable prison programs available to U.S. citizens serving time, including the Bureau of Prison's Mother and Infants Together program. This program would have allowed her to spend time with her child in a non-prison setting.

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