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.

North Metro investigators believe Tang relied on that business acumen to run the grow house ring, too. In the Adams County affidavit, they speculate that the organization encompassed an intricate hierarchy of low-level farmers, mid-level dealers and upper-level financiers that may have been spread out over a hundred homes.

"It became clear this was a really large-scale operation, and it was going to take more than just myself and North Metro Task Force to get it done right," Joyce said last spring. "We couldn't keep up with the pace of the homes the organization was producing."

So in September 2007, the task force joined forces with the DEA, which gave it access to GPS tracking devices, hidden surveillance cameras, contacts with IRS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and, most important, wiretaps.

Dan Tang in 2004, with his photo of George Bush.
Dan Tang in 2004, with his photo of George Bush.
Weiyin Deng, one of six brothers, faces several marijuana-growing charges
Weiyin Deng, one of six brothers, faces several marijuana-growing charges


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.

On January 24, 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis T. Babcock signed off on a request to wiretap a cell phone used by a suspected major player in the organization. On February 12, three more wiretaps went up, all of which were supposed to help officers learn about additional grow houses, track the money and discover who else was in the operation's inner circle.

They never got to do any of this. Two days later, Joyce got an unexpected call from the DEA's wiretap room. Investigators listening in on the phones with the help of interpreters had heard operatives sound the alarm. Shut down the operation, suspects ordered their associates.

The Dan Tang Organization knew it was being watched.

This is the biggest grow house I've ever seen." That's what DEA agents and North Metro officers kept saying over their radios as they raided one grow house after another on February 16, 2008. Charging through front doors and threading their way into basements, they came face to face with mind-boggling jungles of marijuana foliage.

In one house, on Spruce Street in Thornton, investigators found 979 plants. In another, on Ivy Street, they found 1,036. But those paled in comparison to East 151st Place in Brighton, which was jam-packed with 2,054 plants.

The dragnet stretched through the night and into the next day, since investigators knew they were racing against the clock. In one basement, they found dozens of recently uprooted marijuana plants on the floor, a snapshot of a grow house in the midst of coming down. For the most part, the people they found in the houses were cooperative.

More raids were carried out over the following weeks as suspects began spilling the beans. What they said is detailed in the recently filed Adams County affidavit. Fayin Deng, the youngest brother, reported that he'd been generating $50,000 harvests from each of his grow houses every three months — and that he'd used profits to buy a $60,000 Porsche.

All told, law-enforcement officials raided or searched 38 houses and interviewed twenty suspects. They seized 1,315 electrical light ballasts, 1,488 high-powered lights, more than $600,000 in property, upward of $3 million in cash and more than 24,000 marijuana plants. The bust landed Colorado fourth in the nation for indoor marijuana-growing operations eradicated in 2008, and Joyce and his colleagues received the 2008 National Marijuana Eradication Team Award last December.

"It was chaotic and it was crazy, but it was perfectly orchestrated," Joyce said. "It was mind-boggling what we were able to accomplish."

But from the start of the raid, there were signs that Operation Fortune Cookie was starting to crumble.

Sergeant Carbone had already ruffled feathers by not moving up the raid schedule after the leak was discovered. "He didn't believe the operation would stop, because the folks that were involved were making too much money," says Dave Osborne, Carbone's lawyer. "He was of the opinion [the drug ring] would come back up sooner or later, and they would be able to continue the investigation."

But Carbone made another strange decision the night the raid finally went down, according to a North Metro investigator who helped coordinate the action. As preparations unfolded, the investigator says, Carbone ordered a team of officers assigned to watch Tang's house to stand down since they didn't have a search warrant for it. Officers scratched their heads at this: Tang was considered the operation's head honcho, after all. Just to be safe, someone had a couple of officers watch Tang's house anyway.

That turned out to be a smart move. "Literally half an hour before everybody started rolling, Dan Tang just took a huge bag out of his house and threw it in his pickup truck and took off," says this investigator. He didn't get very far. Pulled over on the side of the road, Tang allowed police to search his bag, which was filled with $320,000 in cash — an amount later confirmed in court documents. Tang was then taken to a house at 12155 Adams Street in Thornton, which Carbone and other officers had just raided, according to the source.

Carbone disputes this account, however. "He doesn't recollect telling anybody that they shouldn't be watching Dan Tang's house. Even at this point, the DEA was calling the shots," says Osborne, Carbone's lawyer. Tang went to the Adams Street house with the money in his truck of his own volition, Osborne says.

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