Dozens of peo­ple, busi­nesses in­dicted in black mar­ket mar­i­juana case

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY KRISTEN WY­ATT

DEN­VER | A mam­moth mar­i­juana traf­fick­ing ring that pre­tended to be grow­ing weed for sick peo­ple was in­stead il­le­gally ship­ping the drug to a half-dozen other states and bilk­ing in­vestors, in­clud­ing for­mer NFL play­ers, Colorado of­fi­cials an­nounced Wed­nes­day.

A Den­ver grand jury in­dicted 62 peo­ple and 12 busi­nesses in the case that in­volved fed­eral and state agents ex­e­cut­ing nearly 150 search war­rants at 33 homes and 18 ware­houses and stor­age units in the Den­ver area.

“The black mar­ket for mar­i­juana has not gone away since recre­ational mar­i­juana was le­gal­ized in our state, and in fact con­tin­ues to flour­ish,” state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Cyn­thia Coff­man said in a state­ment.

The in­dict­ment tar­gets the largest il­le­gal mar­i­juana op­er­a­tion dis­cov­ered since Colorado le­gal­ized recre­ational pot in 2012, Ms. Coff­man said.

It says the en­ter­prise pro­duced more than 100 pounds of il­le­gal pot each month for ship­ment to Kansas, Texas, Ne­braska, Ohio, Oklahoma and other states.

The ring op­er­ated from 2012 un­til 2016 and raked in an es­ti­mated $200,000 a month, Ms. Coff­man said.

The de­fen­dants were charged with 31 felony counts of money laun­der­ing, tax eva­sion and other fi­nan­cial crimes. Most are now un­der ar­rest await­ing trial dates in Den­ver Dis­trict Court.

Pros­e­cu­tors say that one of the con­spir­a­tors, Con­nor Brooks, duped friends, in­clud­ing two for­mer pro foot­ball play­ers, into in­vest­ing in his scheme.

Mr. Brooks got money from Erik Pears, a free agent most re­cently with the San Francisco 49ers, and Joel Dreessen, a for­mer Den­ver Bron­cos tight end, the in­dict­ment says.

Nei­ther foot­ball player is ac­cused of a crime, and the in­dict­ment does not say how much the two in­vested in what they thought was a le­gal mar­i­juana busi­ness. Other in­vestors gave money, too, the in­dict­ment said.

“Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als each pro­vided tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to Con­nor Brooks to fund an al­legedly le­gal grow op­er­a­tion, and they did not re­ceive any of their in­vested funds back from Con­nor Brooks as promised,” the in­dict­ment said.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear if Mr. Brooks or any other de­fen­dants had an at­tor­ney.

In ad­di­tion to grow­ing black-mar­ket pot in pri­vate homes, the in­dict­ment says, some de­fen­dants ran phony mar­i­juana con­sult­ing busi­nesses or leas­ing agen­cies.

Some held par­tial own­er­ship in a sub­ur­ban Den­ver store that sells mar­i­juana grow­ing sup­plies, which the in­dict­ment says al­lowed them to have ready ac­cess to nu­tri­ents, pes­ti­cides and other sup­plies. The name of that store was not listed.

The U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion, along with the Kansas State Pa­trol and Ne­braska State Pa­trol, par­tic­i­pated in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Since 2014 there has been an in­flux of th­ese or­ga­nized crim­i­nal groups to Colorado for the sole pur­pose of pro­duc­ing mar­i­juana to sell in other states,” said Bar­bra Roach, spe­cial agent in charge of the DEA’s Den­ver Field Di­vi­sion.

In a state­ment, Ms. Roach said “the mar­i­juana black mar­ket has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially since state le­gal­iza­tion.”

The in­dict­ment was re­turned June 9 and an­nounced Wed­nes­day by Ms. Coff­man.

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