The 32 people indicted in what the Colorado Attorney General's Office has dubbed Operation #GoldenGofer (and yes, the hashtag is something the AG office has requested that the media use in reference to the case) hardly look like a group of criminals.
Indeed, the collection of photos on view below depict men and women of widely varied ages and backgrounds, the vast majority of whom look absolutely benign — like the kinds of folks we see every day.
However, a release about the massive indictment on view below argues that the individuals were part of a "massive illegal interstate marijuana distribution network" whose members "held themselves out as medical marijuana patient caregivers, property managers servicing marijuana growers, as marijuana 'cooperatives; and small business owners while they trafficked tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana trim, concentrate and butane hash oil out of state.
"Conservatively," the release continues, "the group laundered millions of dollars."
The genesis of the indictment trace back to January 2014, when the Denver Police Department is said to discovered an unlicensed marijuana grow after responding to a citizen complaint.
The grow was overseen by Michael Glick, who is said to have claimed the operation was a co-op that was legally growing 500-600 plants for five medical marijuana patients.
Authorities didn't buy that explanation and instead launched what's described as "a massive local, state, and federal law enforcement investigation" culminating in actions triggered by an October search warrant.
Before they were done, law enforcers reportedly seized 4,600 pounds of marijuana, nearly 2,000 plants, ten pounds of hash oil around around $1.4 million in cash.
The accused ringleader was Tri Trong Nguyen.
Here's how the government shorthands the operation:
During the ring’s operation, Nguyen controlled the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana at thirteen warehouses throughout Denver.
He and his wife, Kristen Root, and sisters Josie Phuong Farrow, Shelia Thi Kieu Lorenz, and Oanh Tran, allegedly laundered the proceeds, avoiding the payment of taxes.
They disguised their criminal activity through front companies that included a massage parlor and a purported property management company leasing commercial warehouse space to marijuana growers.
The family converted cash from their illegal sales into money orders that they then deposited into bank accounts in amounts under $3,000 to avoid triggering federal reporting requirements.
The scam also allowed them to avoid payment of an estimated $700,000 in excise taxes.
Another key part of the plot, the AG's office contends, involved a sky-diving business owned by Joseph Johnson.
The indictment argues that planes that were part of the business were used to fly pot and cash back and forth between Colorado and other states, namely Minnesota and Texas.
The AG's office maintains that Johnson ultimately confessed to being a "go-fer" for Nguyen and company.
He's presumably the source of the go-fer part of Operation #GoldenGofer's name.
As we've reported, the Denver City Council imposed a 36-plant limit on unregulated marijuana grows earlier this week, with supporters arguing that the move was intended to cut down on cannabis being sold on the black market.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman strikes a similar tone in a statement about the allegations.
“At one point, Nguyen explored becoming a legitimate grower by merging his operations with a licensed dispensary,” Coffman is quoted as saying. “But when Nguyen was told he would have to cut down his existing marijuana crop and start the business again in accordance with Colorado law, he responded that he was making too much money doing what he was doing and he walked away from the deal — choosing the more lucrative black market over the white market.
"These loopholes must be closed," she adds. "The investigation also revealed that the ring engaged in the hazardous production of illegal butane hash oil, putting themselves and anyone in their proximity in harm’s way.”
Look below to see photos of the other individuals indicted in the case, followed by the aforementioned document.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.