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.

In October 2008, a federal grand jury indicted one other person, Eric Sen, who was charged with marijuana cultivation and money laundering. His case is pending.

Rumors started circulating that Tang might not be charged at all. Adams County DA Don Quick says his office passed on prosecuting Tang because he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. "We told the U.S. Attorney's Office that if they wanted some of them to go state, we would help them. I did tell them I wanted them to keep Dan Tang's case, because Tang has a lot of political connections in Adams County," he says.

"I didn't want to face all these accusations as to why he got this plea agreement or that plea agreement," he adds. "I didn't want to be in a position of, 'You gave Dan Tang this offer because of the folks he knows in Adams County.'"

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

Details

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.

Quick also says that Busck's involvement posed a problem because the two men are friends. "I told my folks that I didn't want the appearance that I was giving [Tang] a sweetheart deal," he says. "Noel was a real conflict for me, and Dan Tang was an appearance of conflict for me."

Operation Fortune Cookie, which had started with such a bang, seemed to be going out with a whimper. "I think it says that a lot of people can spend a lot of money and a lot of time accomplishing nothing," says Phillip Cherner, attorney for Fu Yin Deng, one of the four defendants sentenced to prison as a result of Operation Fortune Cookie.

By the end of 2008, six detectives had left North Metro; three more, including the task force's commander and Carbone, transferred back to their respective departments in January. Some left of their own volition, while supervisors pulled others.

"It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth," says one of the North Metro sources who spoke with Westword and asked to remain anonymous; none is still on the task force. "My biggest complaint is, everybody from the chiefs to the secretaries knew what was going on, and nobody did a goddamn thing."

It doesn't speak well for the once-lauded North Metro Task Force, says another of the sources: "It went from a prize regimen, probably the best in the state, to one with a dirty cloud around it that other task forces didn't want to be involved with."

Joyce, the man who'd launched the investigation, also left the task force — though he'd been told that if he did so, he'd be taken off of Operation Fortune Cookie.

"The best way I can put it is I left there because I chose to," he said in a November 2008 interview, before North Metro supervisors said he could no longer talk to the press because it might jeopardize the prosecution. "It was a matter of integrity. I felt I could not work with a person or persons down there for personal reasons."


In March, a federal grand jury indicted another suspect in the operation, Kim Chi Dang, alleging that he conspired to grow and sell 1,000 or more pot plants; Dang could face ten years in prison and a $4 million fine.

That case, and all other new federal cases associated with Operation Fortune Cookie, are no longer being handled by Wayne Campbell, the assistant U.S. attorney originally assigned to the investigation. Stephanie Podolak, head of the Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office Drug Task Force Section and Campbell's boss, is now handling prosecutions associated with the investigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office wouldn't comment on the reassignment, and Campbell says he doesn't believe it had anything to do with his work on the case. "That kind of thing often happens around here. They would go from one to another to another," he says. "I didn't take that as being very out of the ordinary."

In May, the Adams County District Attorney finally got involved in the action when the U.S. Attorney's Office transferred ten cases associated with the Dan Tang Organization to Quick. These individuals have been charged with money laundering, marijuana cultivation and distribution and other crimes. Weiyin Deng, the oldest Deng brother, is one of the defendants and faces all of those charges.

Also that month, Tang's youngest brother, Fayin Deng, was arrested and charged in U.S. District Court along with his wife, Kelly Chuong, and one other person for conspiring to manufacture or distribute 1,000 or more pot plants. The charges arose from a tip Broomfield police had received in April about another grow house. That tip was passed on to someone who knew more about this case than anybody: Detective Joyce, who was back working on Operation Fortune Cookie, as a Northglenn police officer rather than a task force member.

When police investigated the residence in question, on Cherrywood Street in Broomfield, they found 85 pot plants and considerable marijuana equipment. The property, it turned out, was listed to Fayin Deng, who at that point had yet to be charged with anything.

So while the DEA was looking for the leak at North Metro and cases against Tang and others languished, at least part of the Dan Tang Organization — run by the brother whom Tang had initially informed on — was continuing to operate.


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