Operation Fortune Cookie, the colorfully named drug investigation that led to the largest weed bust in Colorado history and then imploded in allegations of crooked cops, paid-off politicians and bureaucratic cover-ups, has caused serious blowback for the law-enforcement agencies and elected officials involved. Now it may have similar repercussions in the local Chinese-food industry, since Dan Tang, owner of the celebrated Thornton hot spot Heaven Dragon, was sentenced on Wednesday to eighteen months in prison for his part in the drug operation.
Tang's suspected involvement in the marijuana grow may already have shifted the local chopsticks scene. In October, Westword reported that according to Operation Fortune Cookie documents that we had obtained, Tang told investigators working the case that he'd skimmed more than a half million dollars from Heaven Dragon's books and used part of it to buy the Armadillo restaurant in Broomfield, an establishment that would later become the dim sum restaurant Heaven Star. According to the Colorado's Secretary of State's website, three months after that, Heaven's Star's registered agent was changed to Pi Pi Ouyang -- although there's no record as to whether the previous registered agent was Tang or somebody else.
Now there's been another change: This past February, Heaven Star changed its name to New Port. It's unclear whether this shift had anything to do with Operation Fortune Cookie, although it would seem to be a good business move for the restaurant to separate itself as much as possible from the drug investigation.
But all these changes could be minor compared to what's in store for Heaven Dragon, Tang's illustrious eatery that's served mayor, senators, governors and George W. Bush on three separate presidential visits. During Tang's long and dramatic sentencing hearing on Wednesday, the restaurateur's legal team argued that Heaven Dragon might not survive if Tang was imprisoned. They brought in David Kan, a forensic psychiatrist from San Francisco who diagnosed Tang with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder and noted that the workaholic restaurateur insisted on overseeing every minute detail of his eatery -- down to how its carpet was vacuumed. "He cannot delegate," said Kan. "He has to constantly check on things. He gets a sense of organization from his restaurant."
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While the judge sentenced Tang to prison anyway, he delayed the start of the sentence to August 16 so that he'd have time to find someone to run his business while he's away.
But even if Tang is able to find someone he trusts to do that, there's another, possibly more damning problem: As a convicted felon, Tang will likely now lose his Thornton liquor license. And a restaurant like Heaven Dragon without a liquor license is hardly a restaurant at all. Tang could theoretically transfer the restaurant to his wife, Xiu Ying Li, but documents obtained by Westword suggest that authorities believed she was in on the drug ring, too--- a fact reiterated by Tang's legal team at his sentencing. "The evidence on his wife was substantially greater than any evidence on Mr. Tang," said Michael Axt, Tang's lawyer, in defense of his client.
In other words, the local liquor board isn't likely to consider Li the best candidate for a license, either.
So what does that mean for Heaven Dragon? Will Tang be forced to relinquish his prized eatery once and for all? Or will he find some way to keep Heaven Dragon flying for a long time to come? To be safe, if, like George W. Bush, you're a fan of Heaven Dragon's Peking duck, you'd better enjoy it while you still can.