Federal and local law enforcement announced Thursday the withdrawal of a black market marijuana and money laundering program in Colorado – an operation involving 21 people cultivating millions of dollars in illicit pot on the subway from Denver and redirecting their profits to China through social media apps.
Drug investigators seized thousands of plants, hundreds of pounds of packaged marijuana and around $ 1 million during the investigation which began in August 2020, authorities said at a press conference at the 18th Centennial Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
“I want to point out that although this is a micro-cell in our state of Colorado… we believe it is happening on a macro level across the United States,” John Kellner said, Arapahoe and Douglas Counties District Attorney. .
Charges against the 21 suspects range from racketeering and conspiracy under Colorado’s Organized Crime Control Act to drug cultivation and distribution to money laundering.
Kellner described the investigation as a “money laundering affair with a side of marijuana”.
The money, derived from the illicit cultivation of marijuana in Colorado, would flow from the United States to China, through Central and South America, and eventually to American soil.
“It just created the whole drug cycle – within organizations, cartels and through money laundering organizations – and that’s how money circulates around the world,” said Steve Cagen, agent. special in charge of internal security investigations. “Often without moving the dollar. “
Over the past five years, the DEA has found that Chinese money laundering organizations have become the mechanism used by drug trafficking organizations to launder drug money via the United States, investigators said. in a 24-page Arapahoe County indictment.
The money, prosecutors said, would be exchanged using Chinese social media apps that also have digital wallets and QR codes that can easily be shared.
Key elements of the investigation came together on November 20 at a mall near Cherry Creek State Park in Centennial, when an undercover agent arranged a meeting with two of the alleged participants. Officers found $ 46,000 in cash, which prosecutors said came from illegal marijuana operations.
On March 2, officers broke into homes in Centennial and Deer Trail, where they found thousands of dollars in cash, pounds of packaged marijuana and grow rooms set up for growing pot, investigators detailed in the indictment.
Two of those accused of participating in the operation were involved in marijuana cultivation efforts in Haskell County, Oklahoma, a rural community in the southeastern part of the state.
The two reportedly set up a grow operation eight or nine months ago using money from their Colorado weed control program, Haskell County Sheriff Tom Turner told The Denver Post.