For Immediate Release
DEA-Led Multi-Agency Task Force Dismantles Large Marijuana Grow Operation in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe Colorado
Twenty people indicted following agents and officers recovering more than 1,000 marijuana plants, a large number of firearms and more than $25,000
DENVER – On Tuesday, September 1, 2015, DEA-led special agents, task force officers and other members of law enforcement, including the Sheriffs’ Offices of Custer and Fremont Counties, executed eight search and arrest warrants in and around the towns of Cotopaxi and Westcliffe, Colorado. The warrants were the result of a large multi-jurisdictional investigation into the illegal growth and distribution of marijuana. As a result of the search warrants, over 1,000 marijuana plants were found, as were approximately 50 pounds of dried marijuana, 28 firearms (13 rifles, 8 shotguns and 7 handguns), and over $25,000 in cash. In addition to the seizures, a superseding indictment was obtained that charged 20 individuals with Conspiracy and marijuana trafficking. Of the 20 defendants charged, 17 are in custody. The remaining defendants are fugitives.
According to court documents, the investigation began in May of 2014, where after a traffic stop, a drug investigation began. During the investigation agents and officers noted that a target vehicle left Cotopaxi on October 20, 2014. That vehicle, which was with another vehicle traveling in tandem, was pulled over on October 21, 2014 in Pennsylvania. As a result of that traffic stop, three duffel bags containing approximately 34 pounds of marijuana were found in the car. On November 3, 2014, another target vehicle under surveillance was followed to a UPS store in Colorado Springs, where the occupants unloaded two large boxes, using the UPS service to send them to Florida addresses. The boxes were seized. Later UPS called stating that they had two additional boxes dropped off containing marijuana at a different Colorado Springs UPS store. Those boxes were seized as well. The packages in total contained approximately 26 pounds of marijuana.
As a result of the seizure of marijuana from vehicles leaving Cotopaxi and going to locations out of state, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the DEA, obtained the search and arrest warrants. Those warrants were executed.
All 20 defendants face a variety of drug trafficking charges, including Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 plants of marijuana. They each face penalties of not less than 10 years, and up to life in federal prison.
The search warrants were executed at addresses in Custer and Fremont Counties. The Sheriffs and their offices for both counties were invaluable during the investigation and during the execution of the warrants. Residents from both counties had made multiple complaints about the defendants’ conduct not only to law enforcement, but also to elected officials. As this investigation is on-going, additional arrests are possible.
“This heavily armed, rogue drug trafficking organization was transporting a substantial amount of marijuana to people outside Colorado,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “And the drug traffickers were making a large profit in return.”
“Colorado’s permissive Marijuana policies and laws continue to be exploited by large scale Marijuana trafficking organizations, who are establishing their Marijuana grow operations in Colorado to support their nationwide Marijuana distribution network,” said DEA Denver Division Special Agent in Charge Barbra Roach.
“I would like to extend my appreciation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, DEA, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and the Pueblo Police Department for their direct assistance in this operation,” said Custer County Sheriff Shannon K. Byerly. “Their help was critical in conducting this without incident. I would also like to recognize the efforts of the men and women of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office who contributed to this mission. This was an important step to gain control over the illegal production and sales of Marijuana in our area and we will continue to investigate those attempting to take advantage of the Marijuana laws in Colorado. Our communities earned an important victory today.”
“Because of the negative impact illegal drug trafficking has on our communities, we are very appreciative of the superb relationships that have been fostered between the federal agencies and all the local agencies involved. With this cooperative effort, we have come together to address a mutual problem,” said Fremont County Undersheriff Ty Martin.
“ATF maintains a strong relationship with the DEA and is committed to working with them and all of our Federal, State and Local partners to combat firearm and narcotic violations,” said ATF Denver Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Ron Humphreis.
“The indictment of these individuals is due to the successful efforts of various state and federal law enforcement agencies working together. IRS Criminal Investigation special agents are uniquely trained to follow the money and provide financial expertise to the overall investigation,” said Steven Osborne, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, Denver Field Office.
The following agencies were involved in the execution of the search and arrest warrants: the DEA, IRS Criminal Investigation, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Marshals Service, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Department, the Pueblo Police Department, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department, the Florence Police Department, the Colorado State Patrol, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, and the Custer County Sheriff’s Department.
The defendants are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Phillips.
The charges outlined above are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.