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

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Operation Fortune Cookie, which had started with such a bang, seemed to be going out with a whimper. "I think it says that a lot of people can spend a lot of money and a lot of time accomplishing nothing," says Phillip Cherner, attorney for Fu Yin Deng, one of the four defendants sentenced to prison as a result of Operation Fortune Cookie.

By the end of 2008, six detectives had left North Metro; three more, including the task force's commander and Carbone, transferred back to their respective departments in January. Some left of their own volition, while supervisors pulled others.

"It leaves a very bad taste in my mouth," says one of the North Metro sources who spoke with Westword and asked to remain anonymous; none is still on the task force. "My biggest complaint is, everybody from the chiefs to the secretaries knew what was going on, and nobody did a goddamn thing."

It doesn't speak well for the once-lauded North Metro Task Force, says another of the sources: "It went from a prize regimen, probably the best in the state, to one with a dirty cloud around it that other task forces didn't want to be involved with."

Joyce, the man who'd launched the investigation, also left the task force — though he'd been told that if he did so, he'd be taken off of Operation Fortune Cookie.

"The best way I can put it is I left there because I chose to," he said in a November 2008 interview, before North Metro supervisors said he could no longer talk to the press because it might jeopardize the prosecution. "It was a matter of integrity. I felt I could not work with a person or persons down there for personal reasons."

In March, a federal grand jury indicted another suspect in the operation, Kim Chi Dang, alleging that he conspired to grow and sell 1,000 or more pot plants; Dang could face ten years in prison and a $4 million fine.

That case, and all other new federal cases associated with Operation Fortune Cookie, are no longer being handled by Wayne Campbell, the assistant U.S. attorney originally assigned to the investigation. Stephanie Podolak, head of the Colorado U.S. Attorney's Office Drug Task Force Section and Campbell's boss, is now handling prosecutions associated with the investigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office wouldn't comment on the reassignment, and Campbell says he doesn't believe it had anything to do with his work on the case. "That kind of thing often happens around here. They would go from one to another to another," he says. "I didn't take that as being very out of the ordinary."

In May, the Adams County District Attorney finally got involved in the action when the U.S. Attorney's Office transferred ten cases associated with the Dan Tang Organization to Quick. These individuals have been charged with money laundering, marijuana cultivation and distribution and other crimes. Weiyin Deng, the oldest Deng brother, is one of the defendants and faces all of those charges.

Also that month, Tang's youngest brother, Fayin Deng, was arrested and charged in U.S. District Court along with his wife, Kelly Chuong, and one other person for conspiring to manufacture or distribute 1,000 or more pot plants. The charges arose from a tip Broomfield police had received in April about another grow house. That tip was passed on to someone who knew more about this case than anybody: Detective Joyce, who was back working on Operation Fortune Cookie, as a Northglenn police officer rather than a task force member.

When police investigated the residence in question, on Cherrywood Street in Broomfield, they found 85 pot plants and considerable marijuana equipment. The property, it turned out, was listed to Fayin Deng, who at that point had yet to be charged with anything.

So while the DEA was looking for the leak at North Metro and cases against Tang and others languished, at least part of the Dan Tang Organization — run by the brother whom Tang had initially informed on — was continuing to operate.

Dressed in a suit and tie, Tang was silent as he listened to court proceedings on June 18 with the help of a Mandarin interpreter. He waived his right to a grand jury indictment and was charged by information. His only comment during the hearing was a brief "Yes, your honor" when asked by the judge if he understood what he was facing: a money-laundering charge and an asset-forfeiture allegation that would require Tang, if convicted, to relinquish all of his property, including $1.8 million that police have already seized.

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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