Longform

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

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The source wonders why an outside party such as the FBI wasn't conducting the inquiry, rather than an agency involved in the bust. The source also wonders why everyone at North Metro was allowed to continue working the case while they were being investigated for a potential confidentiality breach.

"The reaction was, 'Goddamn it, this is our place. Fuck no if someone is going to discredit our work,'" says the source, who cooperated with the DEA nevertheless. The ensuing investigation involved lengthy interviews, financial audits and polygraph tests.

"It was a very serious breach. I can tell you I have been in this chair for nineteen years now, and nothing has ever happened like this one," Campbell says.

The DEA eventually produced a lengthy report on its findings, a report that North Metro's board of governors — the chiefs of the seven police departments and Adams County Sheriff Darr — were given a chance to read at the DEA's Denver office one day last January. Only a few chose to do so, and none were allowed to keep a copy.

The fact that those who read it didn't take any action in response suggests there must not have been enough evidence to implicate anyone at North Metro, says Tom Gorman, director of the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which oversees North Metro and other task forces in the region.

"In a situation where there appears to be a leak, let's say circumstances are such that it might look like one individual is involved," says Gorman. "But when you finish a very exhaustive investigation over a very long term, if I don't have enough to find somebody accountable, if I don't even have enough to take administrative action, you have to admit the evidence must be pretty circumstantial."

In April, the Broomfield City and County Attorney's Office, acting as legal counsel for North Metro, denied Westword's open-records request for the document on the grounds that it was "contrary to public interest" because it was a criminal justice record compiled for law enforcement. Last week, the U.S. Justice Department denied a similar request for the report.

"That investigation is ongoing; it is not closed," says Broomfield Chief of Police Tom Deland, speaking on behalf of North Metro. "We don't want to talk about that part of the investigation until it is all complete. They are all part of one investigation. The assumption is that when it is all wrapped up, the investigation will be made available."

But Sweetin, head of the Denver DEA office, says his agents have completed their investigation of North Metro. "The part that DEA did was really kind of an adjunct to the original case," he said in a January interview. "We have completed our investigation of that thread of this case."

For most of the past year, the result of the investigation into the grow house ring had seemed as uncertain as the internal search for the leak. In the weeks following the raids, only seven people were charged with crimes in U.S. District Court, a group that included Tang's brother Yue de Deng and his brother-in-law Xui Yun Li.

Those defendants could have faced five-year mandatory minimum sentences for cultivating 100 or more marijuana plants. But since the judges on the cases determined that the defendants met federal safety-valve provisions — such as being first-time offenders, not having used firearms and not being leaders in the operation — they imposed lesser sentences. Four of the defendants received prison terms of eighteen and thirty months, while a fifth got three years of probation. Yue de Deng got eighteen months and a $7,500 fine. A sixth defendant had all charges dropped, and the seventh is awaiting sentencing.

In October 2008, a federal grand jury indicted one other person, Eric Sen, who was charged with marijuana cultivation and money laundering. His case is pending.

Rumors started circulating that Tang might not be charged at all. Adams County DA Don Quick says his office passed on prosecuting Tang because he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. "We told the U.S. Attorney's Office that if they wanted some of them to go state, we would help them. I did tell them I wanted them to keep Dan Tang's case, because Tang has a lot of political connections in Adams County," he says.

"I didn't want to face all these accusations as to why he got this plea agreement or that plea agreement," he adds. "I didn't want to be in a position of, 'You gave Dan Tang this offer because of the folks he knows in Adams County.'"

Quick also says that Busck's involvement posed a problem because the two men are friends. "I told my folks that I didn't want the appearance that I was giving [Tang] a sweetheart deal," he says. "Noel was a real conflict for me, and Dan Tang was an appearance of conflict for me."

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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