Operation Fortune Cookie: Dan Tang heads to prison

Another chapter begins today in the long and tawdry tale of Operation Fortune Cookie, the largest weed bust in Colorado history that imploded in allegations of crooked cops, paid-off politicians and bureaucratic cover-ups.

Dan Tang, prominent Thornton restaurateur and the drug ring's suspected kingpin, heads to prison for eighteen months.

The sentence is considerably less than the seventy to 87 months indicated by the case's sentencing guidelines or apparently what drug investigators had pushed for.

During Tang's lengthy and dramatic sentencing hearing last March, the restaurateur's lawyers argued that Heaven Dragon, Tang's iconic Chinese restaurant that has served the likes of George W. Bush, might not survive with Tang behind bars. They brought in David Kan, a forensic psychiatrist from San Francisco, who diagnosed Tang with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and noted that the workaholic restaurateur insisted on overseeing every minute detail of his eatery -- down to how its carpet was vacuumed. "He cannot delegate," said Kan. "He has to constantly check on things. He gets a sense of organization from his restaurant."

While the judge sentenced Tang to prison anyway, he delayed the start of the sentence to August 16 -- today -- so Tang would have time to find someone to run his business while he's away.

According to Gene Ciancio, one of Tang's lawyers, it turns out the job will fall on members of Tang's family -- some of whom were convicted in Operation Fortune Cookie. "The family is going to continue to run the restaurant to the best of their ability," says Ciancio. "It's a tough environment out there right now for any restaurant. And to lose the top guy is not easy. But they are going to do the best they can to maintain the same level of service and quality food as they always have."

Even with the supposed head of the dragon curtailed, fallout from Operation Fortune Cookie continues. A week before Tang was sentenced, the lead investigator on the case and a colleague filed a federal lawsuit alleging that they faced retaliation from their superiors for reporting suspected corruption during the investigation to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. Deadline for discovery in the case is set for January, and a final pre-trial conference is scheduled for May 5, 2011.

Earlier this month, however, the parties involved in the lawsuit signed an intriguing protective order: Both sides agreed that any confidential information provided as discovery in the case -- such as, presumably, the secret DEA report detailing the findings of a turbulent investigation into suspected corruption within Operation Fortune Cookie -- won't be disclosed to anybody not directly involved in the lawsuit.

Which means, in other words, that many of Operation Fortune Cookie's greatest mysteries may continue to be secret.

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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