Operation Fortune Cookie: Why did alleged prime suspect Dante Carbone get promoted?

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As we reported on Tuesday, a new court filing suggests the prime suspect for the implosion of Operation Fortune Cookie, the person many people suspected of tipping off restaurateur and apparent drug kingpin Dan Tang and sabotaging the state's largest pot bust, was Thornton Sergeant Dante Carbone, one of the operation's supervisors. But if so, why was Carbone never punished, and instead promoted to commander?

The filing comes as part of a federal lawsuit submitted last March by Daniel Joyce, the lead investigator on Operation Fortune Cookie, and Robert Lopez, his colleague on the North Metro Task Force (NMTF). And to Patricia Bangert, Joyce and Lopez's attorney, Carbone's treatment doesn't make much sense. Her clients allege they faced retaliation from their superiors for reporting suspected corruption in the DEA investigation launched into the NMTF after authorities found evidence of an internal leak -- namely, a tip-off letter sent to Dan Tang.

The well-connected owner of the Thornton restaurant Heaven Dragon, Tang was suspected of running the drug operation. She says Joyce and Lopez are "boy scouts," just cops trying to do the right thing and expose wrongdoing -- but for their efforts, they've been bullied, threatened and eventually both removed from NMTF.

And what happened to Thornton Sergeant Carbone, one of the NMTF's supervisors? According to Bangert, a summary of the DEA's internal investigation she was allowed to read indicated that the police chiefs and other officials in charge of the NMTF were kept fully informed of the DEA's ongoing investigation and knew fairly early on that Carbone was a main suspect. By that point, they'd also discovered that Carbone had long known Tang, something the sergeant had apparently failed to reveal for much of the investigation. But Carbone's supervisors never removed him from his position on the task force and never curtailed his involvement with Operation Fortune Cookie, which included meeting regularly with U.S. Attorney Wayne Campbell, a close friend of Carbone's who was in charge of prosecuting the case.

"Obviously, my clients are arguing that once the board knew that Carbone was a primary suspect, they should have removed him out of a position of supervision, at least temporarily," argues Bangert. "That is the standard for administrative leave."

Carbone was eventually removed from the task force, but only after the heads of the NMTF were allowed to read the final report from the DEA investigation. According to Bangert's court filing, the report indicates, among other things, that approximately half of 29 DEA and NMTF employees interviewed questioned Carbone's integrity or suspected that he may have been involved in compromising the drug investigation. Carbone was transferred back to his Thornton department, but he did not face any administrative blowback. Instead, last year, he was promoted to commander.

Maybe, as some officials have suggested, there wasn't enough evidence collected by DEA investigators to even punish a suspected malefactor, much less press charges. But Bangert isn't so sure. "There certainly is right now, and there was enough to warrant an administrative action," she says. "Here you have a sergeant in a task force leading an investigation, and that sergeant is friends with the target of the investigation, Dan Tang."

Other task force officers have faced scrutiny for much less, she says: "There was testimony by Thornton Police Chief James Nursey in his deposition that specifically indicated there was another supervisor who was suspected of taking $500 from the north metro cash fund, and while that was under investigation, that sergeant was moved out of the task force. It's quite standard for that to happen."

Nursey, for his part, is keeping mum on the reasons for Carbone's treatment. "This is a matter of ongoing litigation," he says. "Our response will be reflected in our attorney's responsive pleading to the motion... All of this will be addressed."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Operation Fortune Cooke: Thornton Police Chief James Nursey says Dante Carbone -- Dan Tang's acquaintance -- launched weed investigation."

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