Colom­bian car­tel fig­ures nabbed in Denver pot shop raid

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON AND KELLY RID­DELL

DENVER | Federal agents raided a Denver mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary early Wed­nes­day sus­pected of hav­ing ties to a Colom­bia drug car­tel — as the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced its first ma­jor ar­rests since the state le­gal­ized recre­ational use of pot in 2012.

Agents from the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice, along with state and lo­cal law en­force­ment, burst through the en­trance of VIP Cannabis and be­gan re­mov­ing boxes of items, ac­cord­ing the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice and the DEA.

Four men were at­tempt­ing to mix Colom­bian monies with the pro­ceeds they were mak­ing from sell­ing mar­i­juana in the U.S. to help fur­ther their drug traf­fick­ing ef­forts, the DEA said Wed­nes­day. Three men were ar­rested in Denver, the fourth re­mains at large.

The men were iden­ti­fied as Hec­tor Diaz, 49; David Jef­frey Fur­tado, 48; Luis Fer­nand Uribe, 28; and Ger­ardo Uribe, 33 and who is at large. They have been charged with a firearms vi­o­la­tion, con­spir­acy and money laun­der­ing, among other charges. If con­victed, they would face a max­i­mum penalty of more than 40 years in prison and fines of more than $1 mil­lion.

Luis Uribe and David Fur­tado are slated to go be­fore the mag­is­trate on Thurs­day for a de­ten­tion hear­ing and ar­raign­ment, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice.

The raid fol­lows Mon­day’s un­seal­ing of a federal in­dict­ment that charges four men con­nected to V.I.P. Cannabis in Denver with money laun­der­ing re­lated to the cul­ti­va­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana.

Ac­cord­ing to the DEA, the men set up a shell cor­po­ra­tion called the Colorado West Metal to es­tab­lish a bank ac­count at Wells Fargo Bank in Colorado. They then de­posited hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars into the ac­count via wire trans­fers from Banco Bil­bao Viz­caya Ar­gen­te­ria (BBVA) and Banco de Oc­ci­dente — both in Colom­bia — as well as cashier’s checks and money de­posits made from the men’s bur­geon­ing U.S. mar­i­juana busi­ness.

The men then used their Wells Fargo ac­count to pur­chase a large grow house in the Denver area, the DEA said.

Colorado be­came the first state in the na­tion to open re­tail mar­i­juana shops Jan. 1 af­ter vot­ers le­gal­ized recre­ational pot in Novem­ber 2012.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder has said the Jus­tice Depart­ment was go­ing to re­spect Colorado and Wash­ing­ton state’s mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion laws. How­ever, a Jus­tice Depart­ment memo to U.S. At­tor­neys in those states said they can pur­sue mar­i­juana charges in cer­tain cases.

VIP Cannabis was part of a larger raid in Novem­ber aimed at un­earthing con­nec­tions to Colom­bia drug car­tels that in­cluded more than a dozen Colorado pot shops and cul­ti­va­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

The DEA, the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and the State Depart­ment’s Diplo­matic Se­cu­rity Ser­vices are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Kelly Rid­dell re­ported from Wash­ing­ton.

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