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

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All told, law-enforcement officials raided or searched 38 houses and interviewed twenty suspects. They seized 1,315 electrical light ballasts, 1,488 high-powered lights, more than $600,000 in property, upward of $3 million in cash and more than 24,000 marijuana plants. The bust landed Colorado fourth in the nation for indoor marijuana-growing operations eradicated in 2008, and Joyce and his colleagues received the 2008 National Marijuana Eradication Team Award last December.

"It was chaotic and it was crazy, but it was perfectly orchestrated," Joyce said. "It was mind-boggling what we were able to accomplish."

But from the start of the raid, there were signs that Operation Fortune Cookie was starting to crumble.

Sergeant Carbone had already ruffled feathers by not moving up the raid schedule after the leak was discovered. "He didn't believe the operation would stop, because the folks that were involved were making too much money," says Dave Osborne, Carbone's lawyer. "He was of the opinion [the drug ring] would come back up sooner or later, and they would be able to continue the investigation."

But Carbone made another strange decision the night the raid finally went down, according to a North Metro investigator who helped coordinate the action. As preparations unfolded, the investigator says, Carbone ordered a team of officers assigned to watch Tang's house to stand down since they didn't have a search warrant for it. Officers scratched their heads at this: Tang was considered the operation's head honcho, after all. Just to be safe, someone had a couple of officers watch Tang's house anyway.

That turned out to be a smart move. "Literally half an hour before everybody started rolling, Dan Tang just took a huge bag out of his house and threw it in his pickup truck and took off," says this investigator. He didn't get very far. Pulled over on the side of the road, Tang allowed police to search his bag, which was filled with $320,000 in cash — an amount later confirmed in court documents. Tang was then taken to a house at 12155 Adams Street in Thornton, which Carbone and other officers had just raided, according to the source.

Carbone disputes this account, however. "He doesn't recollect telling anybody that they shouldn't be watching Dan Tang's house. Even at this point, the DEA was calling the shots," says Osborne, Carbone's lawyer. Tang went to the Adams Street house with the money in his truck of his own volition, Osborne says.

Once there, Tang explained to police that he'd been holding the money for his brother Fayin Deng and Deng's wife, Kelly Chuong, according to a U.S. District Court criminal complaint filed against Deng and Chuong. Tang said the couple had been giving him proceeds from the drug operation in $50,000 increments so that the three of them could finance the purchase of a strip mall in northern Colorado.

Tang elaborated on his involvement in a February 27, 2008, police interview, according to the Adams County affidavit. In it, he admits to financing grow houses since April 2007 by lending hundreds of thousands of dollars to his brothers and their associates. He also says he provided false employment records at his restaurant for several drug ring members, held large sums of money for his colleagues and received considerable profits for his help.

Sources close to the case say they made another discovery during the Adams Street encounter with Tang, one not mentioned in court documents: According to a witness who was there, Tang embraced Carbone and said, "Dante, I'm so scared."

"That was big," says the North Metro investigator. "We all said, 'What just happened?'" Up to that point, sources say, Carbone had never suggested to his North Metro colleagues that he knew one of the main targets in the investigation he was helping to supervise.

Osborne disputes the claim that Tang embraced Carbone, but acknowledges that the two men know each other and that Carbone has been a frequent customer at Tang's restaurant for more than twenty years. "It's a common lunch spot for Thornton PD officers and detectives," he says. "And when officers would come in, Dan Tang would make a point of greeting them." Osborne also says that Carbone had told North Metro investigators, the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office many times that "he was a customer at the restaurant and knew Dan Tang from the restaurant."

When Tang greeted Carbone at the Adams Street house, Osborne says, Carbone told him, "You're in a whole lot of trouble" and later handcuffed him.

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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