Four suspects have been indicted on felony charges more than a month after a multi-agency raid of a large marijuana operation in Montezuma County.
Jimmy Dang, Lisa Yang, Qi Lin Wu and Sang Teng have been arrested and charged in U.S. District Court with manufacture and possession with intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
All have pleaded not guilty, said Jeff Dorschner, public affairs officer for the U.S. attorney’s office. Trial dates have not yet been set.
A federal grand jury handed down the indictments on Sept. 11, and the U.S. District Court in Durango is handling the cases.
Three defendants own Chinese restaurants in Cortez, according to court documents.
Wu and Dang own the Ocean Pearl Chinese Restaurant, 300 E. Main St., and Yang owns the Hong Kong Restaurant, 332 W. Main St., according to case records and the Montezuma County Assessor’s Office.
Prosecutors seek forfeiture of property upon convictions.
According to the indictment, the defendants “shall forfeit to the Unites States any and all ... property derived from any proceeds obtained” as a result of the alleged crimes, including “all property used” to commit alleged offenses.
Probable cause for the distribution charge stemmed from surveillance operations in Denver in which the defendants were suspected of transferring marijuana and visiting a drug stash house on Bryant Street, according to court records.
Boxes suspected to contain marijuana were transferred between defendants in a Denver parking lot and were delivered to a Denver residence on South Xavier Street, which Yang owns, according to an affidavit filed by DEA Special Agent Andrew Scott.
Eleven people have been charged since the marijuana raids on Aug. 30.
In Cortez, Hoa Chu, Je Chu, Danny To, Daining He, Yong Tang, Chen Bocheng and Maidong Dangluc were arrested Aug. 30 and face a charge of cultivating more than 30 plants of marijuana, a Class 3 felony. They have been advised in 22nd Judicial District Court in Cortez and have not entered pleas.
Teng also was charged with cultivating marijuana, but his case was dismissed after federal distribution charges were filed against him. Chu failed to appear for his arraignment, and District Court Judge Todd Plewe issued a bench warrant for his arrest and ordered that bond be set at $3,000.
Four properties in Montezuma County and one in Cortez were raided. Two properties are on County Road V, and the others are on County Road 22, County Road K.3 and on Chestnut Street in Cortez.
An estimated $500,000 in cash and gold bars, 4,300 plants and 500 pounds of processed marijuana were seized, according the DEA. The marijuana was worth millions of dollars on the black market, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said.
The raids were connected to a Chinese or Chinese-speaking drug ring that has been under investigation since a large raid in Rifle in 2016, said Steve Knight, resident agent in charge of the DEA office in Grand Junction.
The Cortez-area operation was considered to be the major supplier in a network that extended north to Rifle and east to Denver, he said.
The DEA, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office, Cortez Police Department, Colorado State Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations took part in the investigation, officials said.
“It has mainly been a federal investigation going back to 2016,” said Will Furse, district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes Montezuma and Dolores counties.
The operation allegedly involved purchasing properties on the Western Slope to grow marijuana.
Authorities reported that 14 Chinese nationals were arrested in the Rifle-area operation in 2016, but none were charged, according to The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction. Then-District Attorney Sherry Caloia, of the 9th Judicial District, cited difficulties including not knowing the roles many of the suspects played, and the concern that some of them might have been trafficked workers not working there entirely by choice.
In a marijuana seizure on Sept. 23, a deputy reported that as he was driving in Fruitvale, he noticed the smell of marijuana coming from a Penske moving truck ahead of him and pulled it over for a speeding violation, The Daily Sentinel said. Deputies who searched the truck found 3,100 pounds of marijuana in 87 trash bags, the report said.
The truck driver, Sinh Chan Hoang of California, said he had received a call asking if he “wanted to do something for money.” He said he picked up the rental truck in Pleasant View and drove it to another location, where it was loaded.