Prison for Kensington man with 1,300 marijuana plants

Posted: January 11, 2014

Two things distinguished the Kensington rowhouse of Vinh Quang Nguyen from those of his neighbors: the aroma of fabric softener and an electrical box so overloaded that a prosecutor said, "You could literally hear it humming."

That and the 1,300 marijuana plants growing inside the three-story home. The fabric softener was to disguise the pot's pungent odor, and a network of power-hungry heat lamps kept the plants thriving.

On Thursday, Nguyen's homegrown enterprise earned him three to seven years in prison, his sentence after pleading guilty to possessing marijuana with intent to sell and risking a catastrophe.

"I'm sorry about what I did," Nguyen, 42, told Common Pleas Court Judge Donna M. Woelpper.

Speaking in halting English with the help of a Vietnamese interpreter, Nguyen said he grew and sold the marijuana to help support his girlfriend and her two children, ages 4 and 6, who lived with him in the house in the 2300 block of Frankford Avenue.

Nguyen's sentence could have been far worse - 15 years - had he not agreed to the plea deal with the District Attorney's Office.

"I think he got the best he could," said defense attorney Thomas Burke. "The case was very strong against him."

Burke said Nguyen, a naturalized citizen who came to the United States as a child during the Vietnam War, had no prior arrests.

Assistant District Attorney Ryan Slaven said the prosecutor's office "takes these cases very seriously."

The hazard of clandestine marijuana-growing houses was underscored in August 2004 when two Philadelphia firefighters died after being trapped in a fire in the basement of a house in Port Richmond. Capt. John Taylor and Firefighter Rey Rubio apparently got trapped in a web of wiring linking the 1,000-watt grow lamps, which ignited combustible materials.

Daniel Brough, who rented the house, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 15 months to four years in prison.

At the time of Nguyen's arrest on Dec. 6, 2012, authorities said they found 343 full-grown marijuana plants inside his house, many of them more than five feet tall. They also recovered 500 pounds of cut-and-bagged marijuana.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo


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