The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and Cortez Police Department have received $42,000 from the IRS for their parts in a raid that seized about 500 pounds of processed marijuana and $500,000 in cash and gold bars in 2018.
Eight people initially were arrested and 4,300 plants were seized when five properties were raided during an investigation of illegal marijuana grow operations in the Cortez area. The investigation targeted two properties on County Road V, one on County Road 22, one on County Road K. 3 and another on South Chestnut Street in Cortez.
The $42,011 payments, authorized by IRS Criminal Investigation unit, came from a bank account linked to the suspects. The money was given to the departments through the IRS in a share given by the Treasury Department based on their level of involvement.
The agencies involved in the bust were Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, Cortez Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, IRS Criminal Investigation, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security.
The Cortez Police Department and county Sheriff’s Office said the money would primarily be used for officer training and needed equipment.
“I will use that funding for additional training and equipment for our joint (drug) task force,” Sheriff Steve Nowlin said.
Law enforcement officers were tipped off to the marijuana operation by residents who complained about the odor coming from their neighbor’s home.
Five people were charged with one count of marijuana cultivation of more than 30 plants, a Class 3 felony. Then-District Attorney Will Furse, however, said local and federal agencies were unable to provide specific evidence of guilt, and the charges were dismissed. Four people were later indicted on federal charges.
Furse is now a judge in the 22nd Judicial District.
The raids were connected to a Chinese or Chinese-speaking marijuana ring that had been under investigation since a large raid in 2016 in Rifle, DEA Agent Steve Knight said in a previous interview with The Journal in Cortez.
Suspects in Montezuma County were found to be connected by their addresses to the Ocean Pearl and Hong Kong restaurants in Cortez.
“IRS Criminal Investigation’s role in narcotics investigations is to follow the money and with the help of local law enforcement, we were able prevent more than 20 tons of marijuana from hitting the black market,” said Special Agent in Charge Amanda Prestegard.
The money was forfeited to the federal government after the investigation of Jimmy Dang, Qui Lin Wu and Lisa Yang. They were charged with manufacturing, possessing and intending to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, an IRS news release said.
Nowlin said he had never seen a stash of illegally grown marijuana at that scale before. All the marijuana was destroyed.
Although marijuana is legal in Colorado, it is illegal to exceed personal grow limits and to distribute marijuana.
“None of this was ever through the Department of Agriculture or the marijuana industry,” Nowlin said.