By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
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• In early February 2008, the confidential informant told law enforcement that once a week, Tang's parents harvested grow houses for $150 per day. When first questioned about the drug ring, Tang denied any involvement but "admitted to knowing that his mother and father had attended to marijuana grow operations."
• A March 2009 IRS report concluded that the evidence collected during Operation Fortune Cookie showed that "in or about 2007 to April 18, 2008, Dan Khau Tang conspired to cultivate and/or distribute multi-pound quantities of marijuana in the Denver, Colorado area and other parts of the United States with several known... and unknown co-conspirators and conspired to launder the illegal proceeds by attempting to conceal bulk cash in safe deposit boxes, by using the Heavens Dragon Chinese Restaurant [sic] to falsely employ workers that were actually tending to the marijuana grows, as well as by purchasing real estate with the intent of using the property as an indoor marijuana grow." The report went on to accuse Tang of helping to purchase at least seven residences in Thornton, Henderson and Commerce City between November 2007 and February 2008 that were all converted into grow houses.
So, with all this evidence, why was Tang only charged with money laundering?
Officials with the agencies behind Operation Fortune Cookie — North Metro and DEA — referred the question to federal prosecutors, saying they can't talk about the case, at least until Tang has been sentenced.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner says prosecutors didn't have enough proof to charge Tang with anything else.
"We charged with conspiracy to launder money because we have no evidence that he was directly involved with drug cultivation and distribution. He didn't go and water the plants," says Dorschner. "He took his money and used it to buy grow houses, and he received the profits back. So what we charged him with was money laundering — taking the proceeds from the crime and using it to continue funding the crime. If he didn't handle the drugs, it's difficult to charge him with a drug crime."
Other suspects in the drug ring were charged with both money laundering and drug crimes because "they had a more active role in handling the narcotics," Dorschner notes.
Sources with North Metro believe it's possible that the tip-off letter hindered the investigation into Tang. In June, Brighton Chief of Police Clint Blackhurst, who serves on North Metro's board of governors, told Westword, "It is my wish, and that of all the chiefs, that eventually the whole issue will be put to rest and the individual who was responsible for the leak is identified. I think it's a shame that this has become the focus of the investigation. All of the bad stuff, I think it's a crying shame."
The letter's vivid details led some people to suspect it came from a person close to the case. Even Tang himself told DEA agents that he "thought the letter was written by someone in law enforcement, such as a Thornton police officer," according to documents.
The DEA had similar suspicions. Soon after the raids, the agency launched a rancorous internal investigation into the North Metro Task Force, its former partner in Operation Fortune Cookie. The results of the lengthy inquiry into the leak were never released, and no one's been charged or disciplined because of it. But in the year following the bust, half of the eighteen-member Task Force left or were reassigned.
Meanwhile, parts of the grow ring apparently continued to operate. In April 2009 — more than a year after the raids — Broomfield police discovered a marijuana grow in a house owned by Tang's youngest brother. And not long after the original raids, the confidential informant told law enforcement that the southern portion of the grow ring, "that has been growing marijuana longer than the Dan Tang Organization, with more houses and more money," hadn't been uncovered before the tip-off letter set the bust in motion and was carrying on with its illegal activities.
Some of the officers involved in Operation Fortune Cookie are up in arms over the fact that the state's largest indoor weed bust might be going out with a whimper.
"I didn't risk my life for this shit," says an investigator who worked at North Metro during the investigation. "Someone who ponies up the money for marijuana grows is conspiring to cultivate and distribute. He's not immune to where his money goes because he didn't touch the drugs. The people who decided to do this should be ashamed of themselves. The only people who could be satisfied with this deal are the politicians he's connected to and the prosecution team who gave him this deal."