Officials on June 28 announced the indictment of members of what's suspected to be the largest illegal pot-trafficking ring since marijuana was legalized in Colorado, unveiling an operation that allegedly involved 12 businesses in the Denver metro area and along the Front Range.
The 62 suspected ring members allegedly operated across the state and trafficked across state lines as well.
Flanked by local and federal law enforcement officials, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman described a more than three-year effort to shut down the trafficking and cultivation network, which officials said stretched from Colorado to Texas. Coffman told media at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in Denver that the group produced more than 100 pounds of marijuana per month on average in a scheme that allegedly involved tax evasion, money laundering, fraud and attempts to influence public officials.
Revenue from the sale of the marijuana is estimated to have exceeded $200,000 per month over a four-year period, authorities said.
"The black market is continuing to flourish in Colorado alongside legal operations," Coffman said. "This case shows the black market did not stop with legalization in Colorado."
The investigation has "dealt a major blow to the illegal marijuana industry," Denver Police Chief Robert C. White said in a news release.
A January 2014 citizen complaint led Denver police to discover interconnected, unlicensed marijuana grows located in warehouses and residences across the Denver metro area, a news release from Coffman's office said. A map presented at the June 28 news conference shows the location of residences, warehouses, storage units and stores suspected in the investigation, which officials are calling "Operation Toker Poker." Locations were marked on the map for Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties, with a heavy concentration of sites in the south Denver, Littleton, Englewood, Lakewood and south Jefferson County areas.
Members of the alleged trafficking ring represented themselves as medical marijuana patient caregivers, property managers servicing marijuana growers and small business owners while trafficking marijuana out of state, the release said.
Some members allegedly engaged in fraud, "swindling close friends, business associates of friends, wealthy business persons" and two former Denver Broncos into believing the investments they made to the trafficking group were going to state-licensed marijuana grow facilities, Coffman said.
The 74 defendants in the case - 62 individuals and 12 businesses - were indicted June 9, officials said. Forty-three people are in jail, and some have yet to be arrested, Coffman said.
Authorities said some of the suspects went to high school together in the metro area and were known to have played poker with each other, prompting the name of the investigation.
More than 20 law enforcement agencies worked on the investigation and prosecution, including Coffman's office, Denver police, the Colorado Department of Revenue Criminal Tax Enforcement, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Denver District Attorney's Office, the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office and the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.
David Schiller, DEA assistant special agent in charge for the Denver Field Office, spoke along with Coffman and Denver police Deputy Chief David Quiñones.
"It affects the quality of life for Colorado," Schiller said. "The mold, the mildew, the 'sick house syndrome' being implemented in these homes without anyone knowing."
"This is one organization of thousands operating in your neighborhoods," Schiller said. "There's not a county in Colorado that's safe."
In Colorado, retail marijuana was legalized through voter approval in 2012, while pot for medical purposes was made legal by voters 12 years earlier.
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