A multimillion-dollar weed ring goes down -- and threatens to take a prominent restaurant owner with it

The bust was almost blown after an internal leak, and Dan Tang -- his Heaven Dragon Chinese food beloved local politicians -- was implicated.

That snitch wasn't the operation's only problem: Several local politicians, prosecutors associated with the case and at least one North Metro officer have relationships with Tang — or his money. Some officials close to the case were beginning to wonder if Tang would ever be charged. And now that he has been, they worry that he will get little more than a slap on the wrist.

"I think I share the feeling of most of the law-enforcement community in that we are disappointed that Dan Tang wasn't charged with more crimes than just money laundering," says Federal Heights police chief Les Acker, a member of the board of governors that oversees North Metro. "That seems kind of weak. From all the stuff that was reported to us, it seems like there should be more charges than that."

The homes on Raspberry Drive, Ivy Street, Bluegrass Street and Eagle Butte Avenue had well-manicured lawns, spacious attached garages and clean brick facades — just like thousands of other suburban ranch homes populating the surrounding subdivisions.

The house at 12155 Adams Street in Thornton where Tang spoke with Carbone.
The house at 12155 Adams Street in Thornton where Tang spoke with Carbone.


Check out a map of the Operation Fortune Cookie raids and a followup on one of the former drug homes at blogs.westword.com/latestword.

None of them looked at all suspicious, and certainly not like a stereotypical "drug house."

That's what Joyce was thinking in August 2007 as he watched these houses from the secrecy of a parked, unmarked police car. He was chasing a tip from an individual who'd recently walked in unannounced to the Northglenn Police Department with a story to tell: Six Chinese men, all brothers involved with a local restaurant, were using these houses to grow large amounts of marijuana.

It wasn't much to go on. A tip like this would take serious time and effort to verify, and could have easily been lost in the shuffle — that is, if it hadn't fallen into the hands of someone like Joyce. Wickedly intense, he was the sort of officer who'd follow the lead till its end, knowing all the while it could turn out to be nothing. That's the way he operated: Everything had to be accounted for, from each properly arranged item on his spotless office desk to every random tip he was assigned.

"It's a personality thing for me," he told Westword last spring when he was still allowed by his supervisors to talk about the case. "I wasn't going to let a tip go uninvestigated."

Whether dedication or bull-headedness, it was a personality quirk that had worked out well. Years before, it had led the athletic kid from Black Hawk to take a job with the Northglenn Police Department. And in January 2007, five months before this tip had come in, it had helped him land a choice assignment on the North Metro Task Force.

Local law-enforcement agencies pooled officers and resources in task forces so that they could tackle long-term, large-scale drug investigations that would be difficult for a single jurisdiction to handle. And North Metro, which comprised fifteen investigators from Adams County, Brighton, Broomfield, Commerce City, Federal Heights, Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster, plus three sergeants and one commander, was considered one of the best around.

The squad has made headlines over the past few years for aggressively tackling the meth-house problem as well as developing model safety standards for meth raids. "As cliche as it sounds, I've always wanted to do investigations and undercover work," Joyce said last year. "I do what I do because I enjoy my job."

As he studied the houses on the pleasantly named streets, he realized his job was about to get a little more interesting. All he'd been given by the source was a couple of license plate numbers and the names and nicknames of some of the suspects. But by checking the vehicle registration info, he'd come up with another location — one of these ranch homes — and when he'd scoped out that house, he'd found a vehicle that was linked to another suspect named by the source. Through vehicle, wage and property records, plus additional interviews with his source, Joyce identified a network of houses, vehicles and suspects in Thornton, Frederick, Firestone and Henderson. Almost all the homes had a curious similarity: They were ranch style, with attached garages. It didn't take Joyce long to figure out why. Wider, longer homes offer the biggest basements.

Joyce eventually got a peek inside them: The confidential source, who had ties to the people running the homes, arranged to tour one of them while wearing a hidden camera. The camera captured a basement outfitted with tens of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. Grow lights and ventilation pipes dangled from the ceiling, reflective aluminum siding stretched across the walls, and a tangle of irrigation pumps, filters, barrels and tubes snaked around the cellar.

The growers had even found a way to power this high-voltage equipment without catching the attention of the utility company. They'd jackhammered through the basement wall, spliced into the company's main electrical line and rewired it so that their usage wouldn't show up on their electric meter, the source said.

It was all for the benefit of what lay on the basement floor: In dirt-filled planters stretching from wall to wall, hundreds and hundreds of marijuana plants swayed in the breeze of an oscillating fan. Up to that point, Joyce had considered a 250-plant bust a considerable indoor marijuana grow. Now he was looking at an operation that could produce four harvests a year of 800 plants each — an estimated 3,200 plants annually, with each plant producing between $1,000 and $2,000 worth of finished product.

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