By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The anonymous letter arrived at Heaven Dragon, a prominent Chinese restaurant in Thornton, on February 14, 2008. "To addressee only," it read, the message scrawled erratically, as if the author was trying to obscure his or her handwriting.
The "addressee" was Heaven Dragon owner Dan Tang, a man known for hosting mayors, senators, district attorneys and governors and for personally serving his Peking duck to President George W. Bush three times during his presidency.
But now, Tang was becoming known for something else.
"You and your family are targets of a large scale Federal Drug Trafficking and money laundering investigation," begins the typed letter, a copy of which was recently obtained by Westword. "You and your wife have been identified as the financial providers [of] marijuana grows in dozens of local homes. Inside sources state that you and your wife have friendly competition to see who can make the most money each month from the people below you that actually operate and maintain those grows."
The letter goes on to describe the investigation in striking detail: U.S. agents working with the Chinese government to track down drug runners transporting money across the Pacific. Wiretap operations staffed with translators fluent in Chinese dialects. One or more moles within the drug operation leaking intel to investigators. Operatives observing two of Tang's five brothers harvesting a recent indoor marijuana grow and showing off $300,000 in cash and a brand-new Porsche.
"You have a lot of money tied up in other restaurants that are not making the money you are reporting they are making," the letter warns.
There's only one option, the author says: "If you are not prepared to lose all of your money, all of your restaurants, all of your houses, all of your vehicles, and the same for your family members that are involved, including your freedom and theirs, you need to contact this number, 720-690-1518...You can, with assistance, avoid prosecution, deportation, and seizure of all your assets. The investigation will not stop, but you will be able to limit your exposure and additional evidence gathered against you. There is a lot of information that can help you and your family, if you choose to ask for it."
The most incredible thing about the letter was that nearly every word of it would turn out to be true.
When the letter reached Tang, the indoor drug ring, known to police as the "Dan Tang Drug Trafficking Organization," began to shut itself down. DEA agents and narcotics detectives with the North Metro Task Force listening in on wiretaps realized the investigation had been compromised and shifted their plan, Operation Fortune Cookie, into high gear. Two days later, on February 16, 2008, more than a hundred agents and law-enforcement officers took part in a thirty-hour-plus dragnet that, combined with follow-up raids, netted more than 24,000 marijuana plants growing in the basements of 25 suburban homes, along with $3 million in cash and more than $1 million of growing equipment ("Up in Smoke," June 25).
It was the largest indoor marijuana bust in Colorado history.
Since then, 21 people have been charged in state and federal courts in association with the marijuana ring. And Tang? He's the only one who wasn't charged with any drug-related crimes. In fact, Tang has avoided almost every pitfall the letter mentioned.
In June 2009, the U.S. Attorney's Office charged Tang with one count of money laundering in connection with the drug operation, and on September 29, more than a year and a half after the raids, Tang's lawyers filed a notice that a plea deal had been reached.
Sources close to the case say Tang will be allowed to keep Heaven Dragon and other properties in which he is a partner, such as the building that houses Heaven Star restaurant in Broomfield. In return, Tang will change his plea to guilty on November 20, and the government will keep more than $1 million in cash that was seized in the investigation. Whether he receives prison time will be determined by Chief Judge Wiley Daniel at a later hearing.
What's amazing is that thousands of pages of documents recently obtained by Westword show that law-enforcement officials believed Tang had much more involvement in the grow ring than just money laundering — and was potentially engaged in other illegal or questionable activities.
• In a February 27, 2008, interview at the DEA's Denver office, Tang said he'd been introduced to the idea of indoor marijuana grows in April 2007 by his brother, Mingyin Deng (who hasn't been charged with any crimes). Tang said his sibling had been dabbling in the pot business in Canada and Sacramento, and asked Tang if he could borrow money to set up a grow house in Thornton. The transcripts of the interview reveal that the restaurateur also admitted to police that he has "loaned large amounts of money, interest free, to numerous family members" and that "on several occasions when he has loaned money, he had suspicion that the money was being used to purchase houses or to finance in some way marijuana grow operations." Tang noted that he expressly discussed financing a pot grow when he loaned between $30,000 and $40,000 to his brother-in-law in exchange for 30 percent of the profits. He added that on numerous occasions, he'd held large amounts of cash for family members he believed came from marijuana and that he surreptitiously kept several of them on his Heaven Dragon payroll so they could show legitimate income. Gene Ciancio, Tang's lawyer, declined to comment about this and other details of the investigation.