A multimillion-dollar weed ring goes down -- and threatens to take a prominent restaurant owner with it

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But the Tang announcement is bittersweet for the officers involved.

The team that launched Operation Fortune Cookie is now in tatters; half of the once-celebrated eighteen-member task force, including Joyce and Carbone, have left or been reassigned. The exodus came on the heels of a rancorous DEA investigation into the task force, its former crime-fighting partner, trying to find the source of the leak that forced Operation Fortune Cookie to move up the raid.

That snitch wasn't the operation's only problem: Several local politicians, prosecutors associated with the case and at least one North Metro officer have relationships with Tang — or his money. Some officials close to the case were beginning to wonder if Tang would ever be charged. And now that he has been, they worry that he will get little more than a slap on the wrist.

"I think I share the feeling of most of the law-enforcement community in that we are disappointed that Dan Tang wasn't charged with more crimes than just money laundering," says Federal Heights police chief Les Acker, a member of the board of governors that oversees North Metro. "That seems kind of weak. From all the stuff that was reported to us, it seems like there should be more charges than that."

The homes on Raspberry Drive, Ivy Street, Bluegrass Street and Eagle Butte Avenue had well-manicured lawns, spacious attached garages and clean brick facades — just like thousands of other suburban ranch homes populating the surrounding subdivisions.

None of them looked at all suspicious, and certainly not like a stereotypical "drug house."

That's what Joyce was thinking in August 2007 as he watched these houses from the secrecy of a parked, unmarked police car. He was chasing a tip from an individual who'd recently walked in unannounced to the Northglenn Police Department with a story to tell: Six Chinese men, all brothers involved with a local restaurant, were using these houses to grow large amounts of marijuana.

It wasn't much to go on. A tip like this would take serious time and effort to verify, and could have easily been lost in the shuffle — that is, if it hadn't fallen into the hands of someone like Joyce. Wickedly intense, he was the sort of officer who'd follow the lead till its end, knowing all the while it could turn out to be nothing. That's the way he operated: Everything had to be accounted for, from each properly arranged item on his spotless office desk to every random tip he was assigned.

"It's a personality thing for me," he told Westword last spring when he was still allowed by his supervisors to talk about the case. "I wasn't going to let a tip go uninvestigated."

Whether dedication or bull-headedness, it was a personality quirk that had worked out well. Years before, it had led the athletic kid from Black Hawk to take a job with the Northglenn Police Department. And in January 2007, five months before this tip had come in, it had helped him land a choice assignment on the North Metro Task Force.

Local law-enforcement agencies pooled officers and resources in task forces so that they could tackle long-term, large-scale drug investigations that would be difficult for a single jurisdiction to handle. And North Metro, which comprised fifteen investigators from Adams County, Brighton, Broomfield, Commerce City, Federal Heights, Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster, plus three sergeants and one commander, was considered one of the best around.

The squad has made headlines over the past few years for aggressively tackling the meth-house problem as well as developing model safety standards for meth raids. "As cliche as it sounds, I've always wanted to do investigations and undercover work," Joyce said last year. "I do what I do because I enjoy my job."

As he studied the houses on the pleasantly named streets, he realized his job was about to get a little more interesting. All he'd been given by the source was a couple of license plate numbers and the names and nicknames of some of the suspects. But by checking the vehicle registration info, he'd come up with another location — one of these ranch homes — and when he'd scoped out that house, he'd found a vehicle that was linked to another suspect named by the source. Through vehicle, wage and property records, plus additional interviews with his source, Joyce identified a network of houses, vehicles and suspects in Thornton, Frederick, Firestone and Henderson. Almost all the homes had a curious similarity: They were ranch style, with attached garages. It didn't take Joyce long to figure out why. Wider, longer homes offer the biggest basements.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner