Even as proponents push Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, law enforcers continue to place a high priority on arresting and prosecuting people for pot-related offenses. Case in point: The Jeffco DA's office announcement regarding the sentences imposed on seventeen people so far (including Conrado Arellano-Casa, seen here) allegedly involved in a ring that transported weed from Mexico to the U.S.
According to the DA's office, members of the ring arranged for large tour buses to travel from Mexico to Colorado, with the final destination being a warehouse in Commerce City. And these weren't just any buses: Specialized compartments underneath the vehicles were created to transport pot pressed into bricks.
The buses are said to have made this run on a twice-weekly basis for nearly a year -- between May 2010 and April 2011 -- with the amount shipped estimated at 400 pounds per jaunt. The DA's office estimates its street value at $50 per ounce and $800 a pound.
Evidence from agencies such as the North Metro Drug Task Force and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration was eventually presented to a Jefferson County grand jury. The result was a 96-count indictment issued in June that named 23 people, including alleged ringleader Jose Jimenez-Chacon, who lived in El Paso, Texas, and Arellano-Casa, an Arvada man said to have overseen the operation in Colorado.
This last pair earned the harshest punishment. Last week, Jimenez-Chacon, who entered a guilty plea in December, was sentenced to twenty years in prison, with eight years suspended on the condition that he not illegally return to the States for a decade. And Arellano-Casas also got a twenty-year jolt following a December guilty plea of his own; he admitted to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act in addition to pot distribution charges.
And the rest? Of the 23 people named in the indictment, four remain at large and are thought to be in Mexico. Of the other nineteen, seventeen have already pleaded guilty and received sentences: Ten will spend time in prison, while seven face probation. The final two are awaiting sentencing.
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In a statement, Jeffco DA Scott Storey praised authorities for ending an operation that was bringing $36 million worth of marijuana into the Denver area per annum -- a pittance, presumably, compared to the value of cannabis that could be available in these parts should its recreational use be permitted by voters this November.
Look below to see mug shots of those arrested and prosecuted as part of the ring.
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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Nicholas Athanasiou, ex-prosecutor, among eighty busted in massive cocaine ring."