Details emerge in I-Drive hotel marijuana ring

Binh Sieu Tran and his associates in California were making so much money from their marijuana operation that they spared no expense when it came time to shipping the drugs to Orlando, agents say.

The overnight packages bound for the Hyatt Regency were double boxed and glued excessively — a tactic used by criminals to mask the smell of drugs.

An expensive storage case inside the boxes was locked and doused in Lysol.

But on Dec. 5, investigators intercepted the package at a UPS center, opened the double-locked box and found 18 pounds of high-grade marijuana inside, according to a Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation report.

Then, the agents repackaged the box and watched as the drugs were delivered to a man waiting inside the International Drive hotel.

Recently released MBI records show agents tracked — for weeks — packages that arrived at the Hyatt Regency, formerly known as the Peabody.

In each instance, a man — a hotel guest from California — accepted the boxes, hailed a taxi and then headed with the packages to various locations in Central Florida.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana that originated in California were distributed throughout Central Florida by members of suspected drug ring that way, MBI agents say.

Their method, said MBI Director Larry Zwieg, was very "unique."

The group likely thought it was less risky sending the marijuana to a hotel.

"Drug smugglers are constantly changing up their methods," Zwieg said. "It was just another method they were using that we caught onto."

MBI's eight-month investigation into the group — dubbed "Operation Hotel California" — culminated this month with the arrests of Tran, who lives in Westminster, Calif.; suspected Central Florida ringleader Joshua Neal Slemons; associates Amy Eismann, Thomas W. Crump, and Ashley Renert; and more than a dozen others.

Authorities have charged several of the suspects with racketeering, which carries a punishment of up to 30 years in prison.

An attorney with the public defender's office, which is representing Crump, wouldn't comment on the case Monday. Attempts to reach the attorneys representing Slemons, Eismann and Renert were unsuccessful.

Tran was arrested in California — where agents said he lived in a multi-million dollar home — and will be extradited to Orlando.

MBI agents began receiving tips in December about suspicious packages being delivered to hotels on International Drive, the agency reports said.

The first documented surveillance came Dec. 4, when investigators watched as a man at the Hyatt Regency accepted a package and took a cab to the Applebee's in Maitland, where he met a man and handed over the box.

Throughout December and January, MBI agents watched as more than 15 boxes were delivered to people at the Hyatt Regency, reports said.

The men who accepted the boxes — couriers from California — took cabs to various locations in Central Florida.

On Dec. 11, reports said, a 47-pound box and 49-pound box were delivered to the Hyatt, and later taken to a home on Peruvian Lane in the Winter Park area.

But in the spring, the group changed its tactics after realizing law-enforcement caught on to their hotel deliveries.

They then started shipping from California directly to the associates' homes in Central Florida.

More than 500 pounds of drugs were shipped from California to Central Florida since February, MBI agents say.

Much of that was sent through the U.S. Postal Service.

If the group sold each pound of the high-grade marijuana for roughly $3,000 — more than $1 million in drugs hit Orlando streets so far this year.

apavuk@tribune.com or 407-420-5735407-420-5735