On Monday, prominent Thornton restaurant owner Dan Tang pleaded not guilty to one count of money laundering, a charge that arose from his alleged involvement in a massive indoor pot-growing ring. That ring was broken up last year during Operation Fortune Cookie, a police investigation and raid detailed in a Westword feature. And although Operation Fortune Cookie started out as the largest pot bust in Colorado history, it devolved into turmoil and acrimony when someone -- possibly a law enforcement officer -- tipped the pot growers to the investigation.
Last month, Tang waived his right to a grand jury indictment, indicating that he and his lawyers had likely reached an agreement with the prosecution and might plead guilty to the charges they'd file. Tang pleaded not guilty, however, because he had to by law.
Defendants charged with violating federal law in Colorado are arraigned in front of a magistrate judge, and a Colorado magistrate judge cannot accept a guilty plea. So even if the defendant plans to plead guilty, he or she first must plead not guilty.
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Now, Tang's lawyers will presumably file a notice of disposition with the court, one noting that prosecutors and the defendant have reached an agreement and asking the judge to schedule a change of plea hearing. At that hearing, Tang "will be afforded the opportunity to change his plea to guilty," says U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner. "If he chooses not to do that, a trial date will be scheduled."