Longform

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

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Asked about his connection with Carbone, Tang told Westword that he wouldn't consider them friends, but acknowledged, "I know him. He's eaten here before." Tang referred all other questions about the case to attorney Gene Ciancio, who declined to provide additional information except to call last week's charge against Tang "the first step to getting to the truth."

On the night of the raid, there wasn't much time to consider the relationship between Tang and Carbone, however. Soon everyone was distracted by another bombshell, one coming from DEA agents raiding a nearby apartment on York Street.

They'd found the tip-off letter.


The typed letter, folded in an envelope that looked like it had been addressed by someone writing with the wrong hand, was addressed to Dan Tang.

'I know what you're doing," read the anonymous letter, which was described to Westword by five sources close to the case. "You can, with assistance, avoid prosecution, deportation and seizure of all your assets."

To prove the letter wasn't a joke, its author described recent incidents involving certain suspects in the case — knowledge that seemed to come straight from the investigation's surveillance reports. The letter included a phone number Tang could call.

"I literally almost threw up on my shoes," says the North Metro investigator who helped coordinate the raids that night. "It was such a fucking cop. Everybody knew it."

Tang's past relationships with other Adams County law-enforcement officials and politicians associated with the task force were also beginning to make some North Metro members nervous.

On July 18, 2006, for example, election records show Tang donated $500 as well as meals for a fundraising luncheon for Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr, who happens to be a member of the board of governors that oversees North Metro. Darr says he gave the money back as soon as he heard that Tang was under investigation. "I was concerned," he says. "I am the county sheriff. I cannot be in a position where I would be associated with someone believed to be involved with a criminal enterprise."

Adams County District Attorney Don Quick donated money to Darr's campaign on the day of that event and attended another Heaven Dragon fundraiser, on September 14, 2007, for Adams County Commissioner W. R. "Skip" Fischer. This one took place several months after North Metro began its investigation — an awkward situation for Quick, as he's now prosecuting several of the Operation Fortune Cookie cases.

"I've been to Dan Tang's restaurant maybe five or six times," says Quick, adding that he didn't know about the investigation at the time of the fundraiser. "I didn't have any issues such as I was close to him or he was a friend or he was a campaign supporter." As soon as he did learn about the investigation, Quick says he directed his staff to stay away from Tang's restaurant.

The strangest connection involves former Thornton mayor Noel Busck, a current RTD boardmember and the first politician to be honored with a photo on Heaven Dragon's wall. Not long after the Fortune Cookie raids, Tang asked Busck to look after $400,000 for him, according to the May Adams County arrest affidavit, which notes that the former mayor held the money overnight before returning it.

"Mr. Tang has been my friend for twenty years," says Busck, who declined to say why he took the money. "In those twenty years, he has never shown me any indication of any wrongdoing or anything I would consider inappropriate."

Sometime after that, Busck says he got a call from Carbone, with whom he was familiar from his time as mayor. "Officer Carbone called me and said to me that I was not going to be charged with anything. And I thanked him and I hung up," Busck remembers.

Meanwhile, Carbone was meeting weekly and discussing the investigation with Assistant United States Attorney Wayne Campbell, who was assigned to develop a case against the drug ring. One of three sergeants serving on the task force, this was Carbone's second stint; he'd also been a supervisor there in the 1990s.

Campbell declined to discuss the leak, but says he's known Carbone "both professionally and personally" for eighteen years. Still, despite their weekly meetings, he says he didn't know Carbone was acquainted with Tang.


About two months after the bust, DEA agents showed up at North Metro headquarters in Thornton — but not to help with the Tang case. Having apparently cleared their own people of the leak, the agency had decided to investigate the task force members.

"They came into the task force and told us, 'You are all suspects,'" says one of the sources at North Metro. "They wanted to talk to all of us and wanted our cooperation."

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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