As of last July, the Colorado Attorney General's Office Hoppz Cropz prosecution was likely the largest marijuana conspiracy case in the state: thirteen defendants charged with a combined 244 crimes, including racketeering under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, for illegally peddling nearly 200 pounds of cannabis.
Nearly a year later, a hefty 175 of those allegations have been dismissed and ten of the original thirteen people accused, including Dara Wheatley, the significant other of presumed ringleader Joseph "Joey Hops" Hopper, have pleaded guilty to comparatively minor crimes that haven't resulted in any jail time whatsoever. A document detailing these twists and turns is accessible below.
However, the wrist slaps delivered to a majority of the Hoppz Cropz crew, who were based in Colorado Springs, where only medical marijuana is legal, appear to be a strategy to tighten the screws on Hopper, Derrick Bernard and Nathan Bernheisel, all of whom remain in the teeth of the legal system. Hopper and Bernard are currently slated for jury trials in January 2019, while Bernheisel is named in a warrant issued for a failure to appear in court that was issued last November.
The original indictment, also linked here, stated that Hopper, Wheatley, Bernard, Bernheisel, Adam Donaldson, Joseph Sergio Crivici, Victoria Fernandez, Marcee Smith, Alejandra Gonzalez, Raylene Rubio, Nicole Sandoval, Ashley Hefner and Melissa Colmus "engaged in a scheme whereby the members conspired to purchase medical marijuana from licensed facilities and resell it for profit under the guise the marijuana was being offered as a free giveaway with the purchase of a dramatically overpriced, yet low cost, item."
This concept dates back to the days before and just after the launch of legal recreational cannabis sales in Colorado.
An example is outlined in our February 4, 2013, post "Marijuana for Free on Craigslist? Maybe With a Donation — or as a Bonus for Another Purchase." One ad that appeared around that time under the business name "Bud's Worm Farm" offered an eighth of marijuana in exchange for paid "sponsorship" of one hundred red wiggler worms. Another page, titled "Fresh and Cured Hash," touted "$60 gram for BHO and $40g for Full melt." However, the items were not for sale. "I ask [for] donations for my time, energy, the ability to grow the plant, then make oils, the cost of butane and ice for hash," the item read. Another section announced that the deal is "Amendment 64 & 20 compliant," in reference to the constitutional measures that legalized limited recreational weed sales and medical marijuana, respectively.
The following day, on February 5, we discovered a page that took this idea even further, giving away "free" weed with the purchase of a $50 bumpersticker from a company dubbed legalchronicdelivery.com.
Here's a look at the sticker:
Just how legal was this service? Shortly after the publication of our story, the website disappeared — and by mid-February, then-Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and Denver Police Chief Robert White jointly declared such deals to be unlawful.
After January 1, 2014, when Amendment 64 was put into effect, the free-marijuana notion rushed back into the marketplace. A post headlined "'Free' Marijuana Deals Budding on Denver Craigslist" reproduced the following text from one noteworthy ad:
THUNDERF*CK — $40 (DENVER)
I have high quality strains for free for an appropriate donation for gas, time, and effort.
Thunderfuck LA Confidential X Tangerine
All top shelf quality.
I am Amendment 64/20 compliant.
So I can only give you medicine if your are 21+ or a red card holder.
Call or text.
Price for gas, time, and effort as follows:
The Hoppz' Cropz indictment outlines a more sophisticated approach to "free" marijuana. Customers were supposedly charged $15 for a lighter worth only a few pennies — and as a bonus, they were provided with a gram of "free" marijuana that just happened to be valued at around $15.
The indictment goes on to say that "in essence, the enterprise possessed and distributed marijuana — and conspired to do the same — in Colorado Springs, Colorado while simultaneously engaging in tax evasion, money laundering, attempts to influence public servants, filing false tax information and failing to pay over taxes."
Each of the Hoppz Cropz defendants was charged with at least seventeen crimes in the indictment. Hopper racked up nineteen and Wheatley topped the roster with 23.
In the end, though, Wheatley pleaded guilty to a single count, conspiring to distribute between two and a half and five pounds of cannabis, for which she was sentenced to probation and required to pay a few hundred dollars in court costs. And this pattern is echoed by the treatment of nine additional targets, who also entered guilty pleas to single charges, such as possessing between three and twelve ounces of marijuana and distributing less than fifty pounds of marijuana or marijuana concentrate.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Their punishment: probation for Wheatley, Donaldson, Crivici, Smith, Gonzalez, Rubio, Sandoval and Colmus, generally for two years, with the probation of Fernandez and Hefner coming via deferred sentences. Among the additional requirements are court-cost compensation and enrollment in substance-abuse treatment programs.
Expect some or all of these ten to testify against Hopper, Bernard and (if he's ever caught) Bernheisel, as well. There are a cumulative 54 charges still in place against the trio — though many of those could drop away, too.
One more thing: Attorney Rob Corry attempted to get Hopper's case thrown out on a technicality because Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is listed in the indictment under that name but is actually registered to practice law in Colorado under her previous moniker, Cynthia Honssinger. The strategy didn't work.