It's been one of the biggest federal marijuana prosecutions in the Denver area since the passage of Amendment 64, featuring a high-profile raid and more than two years' worth of allegations involving weapons and $500,000 in Colombian cash said to have been dumped into the Colorado pot industry.
But the punishments meted out to three of the four people involved with what's become known as the VIP Cannabis case — named for the former dispensary at the heart of the accusations — has been quite minor, particularly when compared with the possible sentences discussed in the beginning.
Example: Ex-VIP Cannabis owner Gerardo Uribe, who'd been threatened with a twenty-year jolt, has reportedly received a single year of probation, during which he must spend ninety days in prison.
His crimes: marijuana possession and conspiracy to possess marijuana.
The story began in November 2013, when marijuana raids were conducted by assorted law enforcers, including DEA and IRS agents, against multiple cannabis businesses. Here, for example, is a shot of police vehicles outside marQaha, at 3896 Morrison Road....
Photo by William Breathes
And this is a pic from outside a grow on South Jason Street, where a pile of cannabis was simply tossed outside.
Photo by William Breathes
That month, as we've reported, the U.S. Attorney's Office put out the following statement about the raids: ""The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement are today executing lawfully obtained search warrants and seizure warrants."
In the aftermath of this announcement, more information filtered out about four targets of the raid: Hector Diaz, who's from Colombia, as well as brothers Luis and Gerardo Uribe and Denver attorney David Furtado.
In 2013, prosecutors maintained that Gerardo Uribe filed documents locally to incorporate a firm with a name that hardly smacks of pot: Colorado West Metal, LLC. The registered agent in the transaction was Furtado, while Diaz was listed as the "person responsible for forming the corporation."
Around this time, Furtado is said to have facilitated the purchase of a property on Smith Road using "$449,980 in U.S. currency" representing "proceeds of specified unlawful activity, namely the cultivation and sale of marijuana, as derived through the operation of the VIP Wellness Center, operated by Gerardo Uribe, Luis Uribe and others," the U.S. Attorney's Office maintains.
A reminder: While marijuana businesses are legal in Colorado when owners follow state regulations, they remain prohibited under the federal system.
An indictment in the case, which is among three documents shared here, also alleged that Diaz, Furtado and Gerardo Uribe transferred $424,000 from a bank in Colombia to Colorado West Metal, with additional transfers of $100,000 and $20,000 following. The intent, the feds believe, was to "promote the cultivation, manufacture and distribution of marijuana."
In the view of the U.S. Attorney's Office, this last action constituted money laundering.
The feds also hit Diaz for possession of firearms — something he vigorously fought in court. In March 2014, an attorney representing Diaz argued that he was exercising his Second Amendment rights via his ownership of gats of the sort he's seen posing with in this widely circulated photo.
In April 2014, the U.S. Attorney's Office broke down the assorted charges against the men as follows:
In the superseding indictment, Hector Diaz is named in counts one, two, three and four. David Furtado is named in counts three, four, five, six and seven. Luis Uribe is named in counts three and seven. Gerardo Uribe is named in counts three, four and seven.
Count one is possession of a firearm by a prohibited possessor. If convicted, the defendant faces not more than 10 years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine. Count two is false statements with respect to a material fact. If convicted, the defendant faces not more than 20 years imprisonment, and up to a $250,000 fine. Count three is conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, the defendants face not more than 20 years imprisonment, and a $500,000 fine (or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater). Count four is money laundering and aiding and abetting the same. If convicted, the defendants face not more than 20 years imprisonment, and a $500,000 fine (or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater). Counts five and six are money laundering and aiding and abetting the same. If convicted, the defendants face not more than 20 years imprisonment, and a $500,000 fine (or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction, whichever is greater). Count seven is engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity. If convicted, the defendants face not more than 10 years in federal prison, and up to a $250,000 fine.
More than a year later, resolutions have been reached in the cases of three defendants, excluding Furtado, who continues to proclaim that he broke no laws.
As noted by the Denver Post, Diaz pleaded guilty to one count apiece of conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute and visa fraud committed in facilitation of drug trafficking. His sentence: time served.
Luis, for his part, admitted to the same offenses to which Gerardo pleaded guilty: marijuana possession and conspiracy to possess marijuana. He also received a year's probation, 45 days of which he must spend in prison.
That's not all the men lost. In their plea deals, they agree not to contest the government's seizure of what the Post calculates as $800,000 in cash, plus cars and other high-dollar belongings.
That simplifies things considerably, especially considering that the feds auctioned off items seized during the VIP Cannabis raid back in June 2014.
Some of the items seized during the raid of VIP Cannabis's 43rd Avenue facility.
Still, their punishment suggests that federal prosecutions of those involved with marijuana businesses in Colorado, a state that has allowed the industry to blossom, have become much more difficult over time.
That's likely why the feds have concentrated in recent months on busting illegal grows on National Forest land rather than dispensaries.
After all, that's proven to be a lot easier than spending two years-plus on a case that ends in probation and time served for three supposedly big fish.
Below, see a 7News report about the case circa 2013, followed by three documents: the criminal complaint against Diaz, a raid-related search warrant (note: it's upside down) and a November letter from attorney Sean McAllister on behalf of Gerardo Uribe.
Update: On prosecutor's motion, the indictment against attorney Furtado was dismissed without prejudice on September 27, 2016.
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