16 in­dicted in mas­sive mar­i­juana op­er­a­tion

Hun­dreds of pounds of pot sold il­le­gally per month

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Jesse Paul

cen­ten­nial» Six­teen peo­ple have been in­dicted on charges they ran a mas­sive home­grown mar­i­juana op­er­a­tion across the Den­ver metro area that pro­duced hun­dreds of pounds of pot each month for dis­tri­bu­tion across the coun­try.

Author­i­ties say that over about three years, the ring used houses and properties in places such as Colorado Springs, Cas­tle Rock, El­bert County and Den­ver to cul­ti­vate the cannabis and then made high-dol­lar deals to sell it in Illi­nois, Ar­kan­sas, Min­nesota and Mis­souri.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ring launched in Au­gust, the in­dict­ment shows, af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors searched an El­iz­a­beth prop­erty owned by 53-year-old Michael Stone­house. There they found more than 2,500 pounds of mar­i­juana, which of­fi­cials es­ti­mate was worth about $5 mil­lion.

“In a nut­shell, this was about home­grown, lo­cal folks grow­ing and ex­port­ing mar­i­juana (for sale) out of the state of Colorado,” 18th Judicial District At­tor­ney Ge­orge Brauch­ler said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day af­ter­noon. “This op­er­a­tion that was shut down ef­fec­tively by the in­dict­ments and war­rants that were is­sued was gen­er­at­ing about 300-plus pounds of fin­ished mar­i­juana each month. These pack­ages that they put to­gether were tracked here, there and ev­ery­where.”

Brauch­ler said it is the largest such case he has ever seen.

Lo­cal law en­force­ment — from Colorado Springs to Den­ver — worked with the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and fed­eral prose­cu­tors on the case, in which in­ves­ti­ga­tors used wire taps, video sur­veil­lance, GPS track­ers and search war­rants on more than 20 ac­counts at more than seven banks.

Author­i­ties over the past year, led by the DEA, have made it a pri­or­ity to crack down on mar­i­juana be­ing il­le­gally grown in homes for out-of-state sale. Bar­bra Roach, chief of the DEA’s Den­ver divi­sion, said her of­fice is work­ing on sev­eral sim­i­lar cases that are pend­ing in­dict­ments, and the agency has com­pleted nu­mer­ous il­le­gal mar­i­juana raids across the Front Range and the state’s south­east cor­ner.

“Yes, res­i­dents of Colorado, and peo­ple that I’ll call ‘trans­plants to Colorado,’ are mov­ing here (and) be­com­ing in­volved in the mar­i­juana in­dus­try with the ex­pressed pur­pose of hid­ing their il­licit pro­ceeds and their il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties in plain sight un­der some of the laws that we have,” Roach said. “We’re see­ing our­selves as a larger source of sup­ply than we ever were be­fore.”

Brauch­ler, whose of­fice is pros­e­cut­ing the case, said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ring reached a head on Thurs­day when search war­rants were served across 19 Front Range lo­ca­tions by more than 200 law en­force­ment of­fi­cers. Fif­teen of the six­teen peo­ple in­dicted have been taken into cus­tody.

Author­i­ties say Stone­house is sus­pected of lead­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion, whose op­er­a­tions are be­lieved to have be­gun in March 2014. There are 25 counts in the in­dict­ment, in­clud­ing Class 1 and Class 2 drug felonies, as well money laun­der­ing al­le­ga­tions and sus­pected vi­o­la­tions of the Colorado Or­ga­nized Crime Con­trol Act.

Al­most 40 weapons, in­clud­ing ri­fles, shot­guns and hand­guns, also were seized, and in­ves­ti­ga­tors say there were at least two lo­ca­tions as­so­ci­ated with the ring where mar­i­juana con­cen­trate — known as hash oil — was be­ing pro­duced.

Chief Deputy Steve John­son, of the Dou­glas County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, said il­licit home mar­i­juana grows “come up on a daily

ba­sis.” He said they pose a risk to the com­mu­nity be­cause of the chem­i­cals and elec­tric­ity in­volved.

Brauch­ler said he found it par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing how the Stone­house ring ap­peared to be op­er­at­ing amid ev­ery­one else in the com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly when it came to sell­ing pot.

“These were trans­ac­tions that were tak­ing place not un­der the cover of dark­ness,” Brauch­ler said. “Not in the far reaches of this ju­ris­dic­tion. There were hun­dreds of pounds of mar­i­juana be­ing ex­changed in the park­ing lot of a school in Aurora, a park­ing lot of a Star­bucks near Cas­tle Pines.”

Green­wood Vil­lage Po­lice Chief John Jack­son, head of the Colorado As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice, used Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment of the in­dict­ment to sup­port a bill lim­it­ing mar­i­juana pa­tients to 16 plants in their homes, down from 99. He said il­le­gal grow­ers are of­ten us­ing the cur­rent rules to shield them­selves from ar­rest.

He called the leg­is­la­tion the “sin­gle most im­por­tant bill that we’ve had in years.”

“There is a lot of mar­i­juana that is leav­ing Colorado,” Jack­son said. “We’re do­ing things so fast that I think we’re im­ping­ing on what both the spirit and amend­ment of 64 and 20 were voted on.”

District At­tor­ney Ge­orge Brauch­ler speaks Fri­day at the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Den­ver Field Divi­sion of­fice to dis­cuss in­dict­ments con­cern­ing il­le­gal mar­i­juana cul­ti­va­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion. Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

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