Feds, local police launch raids on up to 50 black-market marijuana grow houses in Denver area

Scores of agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency fanned out early Thursday morning in a coordinated raid of up to 50 suspected black-market marijuana grow houses in the Denver metro area, authorities say.

Dozens of search warrants were served on homeowners and residents across the metro area, said Randy Ladd, spokesman for the DEA’s Denver field office.

Thursday’s raids come just three months after federal agents similarly executed more than two dozen search warrants in the Aurora area, seizing hundreds of plants from suspected black-market grow houses. The DEA declined to comment on whether the two rounds of searches were connected, and no arrests have been made in connection with either raid.

On Thursday, agents could be seen stacking uprooted marijuana plants on the driveways of multiple homes in the 10900 block of Unity Lane in Commerce City, and a few miles away in the 11500 block of Chambers Drive.

Law enforcement officers also stacked dozens of heat lamps used for growing marijuana on the lawn, and loaded bags of cash into U-Haul trucks. DEA agents arrived around 7 a.m. and some of the homeowners were inside at the time.

The home on Unity Lane was one of two houses raided in the same block. A car in the driveway of one of the targeted homes had a car seat in it and a stroller could be seen in the garage.

Sandra Braig and her daughter Hannah live next door to one of the homes that was raided. They were about to go to school when they heard a DEA agent yell over the bullhorn: “We have a warrant to search the house!” The mother and daughter heard loud bangs as officials barged into the home.

Agents told Braig she and her daughter had to remain in their house.

“Yeah, I had to call the school and say, ‘Sorry, my daughter’s gonna be late cause the DEA is outside our house,’ ” she said.

A man and woman answered the door of one of the raided homes on Unity Lane. “We don’t want to talk,” the man said, slamming the door.

Braig said she didn’t know much about her neighbors, noting the blinds were always drawn and the house was normally dark. The house was usually very quiet, she said, but once a month three or four cars would arrive.

“It’s a little bit disturbing,” Braig said. “We paid a lot for this house. This will be associated with our neighborhood now.”

About 1½ miles away, agents were hauling hundreds of marijuana plants out of three homes and piling them on driveways. More than 1,000 plants were taken from one house. Lexus vehicles sat in the driveways of two of the homes.

  • Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and local authorities line up marijuana plants during a raid by law enforcement of a home in the Reunion subdivision on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

  • Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration raided two homes side-by-side on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City. The officials confiscated a large number of marijuana plants.

  • Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and local authorities line up marijuana plants in the driveway of a home they raided in the Reunion subdivision Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

  • Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Officials remove marijuana plants from two homes in the Reunion subdivision during a raid on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City. The Drug Enforcement Administration worked with local law enforcement to execute the raids.

  • Grow lights are piled up outside ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and local authorities line up grow lights during a raid by law enforcement of a home in the Reunion subdivision on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

  • Parts of marijuana plants fell on ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Parts of marijuana plants fell on the sidewalk outside two homes raided by members of the Drug Enforcement Administration Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

  • A members of the Drug Enforcement ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    A members of the Drug Enforcement Administration jumps up and down to make more room in the trailer for confiscated marijuana plants Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City. Local authorities, who can not be identified because they do uncover work, loaded a trailer full of marijuana plants after they raided two homes side-by-side in the Reunion subdivision.

  • Marijuana plants are piles-up outside a ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Marijuana plants are piled up outside a home after members of the Drug Enforcement Administration and local authorities raided two homes side-by-side in in the Reunion subdivision Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

  • Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration ...

    RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

    Officials load a trailer full of marijuana plants after the Drug Enforcement Administration raided two homes with the help of local law enforcement on Jan. 31, 2019, in Commerce City.

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Despite scores of raids, so far there have not been any arrests in the illegal grow operations.

That’s highly unusual, said Frank Moya, a Denver attorney who specializes in defending people accused of drug dealing.

Typically when agents pursue long-term investigations of syndicates, suspects are arrested on the day drug seizures are made, Moya said. At that point, everyone involved in the operation knows they are the targets, and they might flee.

“The word is out,” he said.

It’s unclear what strategy prosecutors and investigators might be pursuing if they are not arresting alleged participants in the illegal businesses, Moya said.

Colorado is a prime location for the grow houses because, unlike other states that have legalized marijuana, it allows people to grow marijuana inside residential homes, Ladd said.

“Colombia is to cocaine as Colorado is to marijuana,” he said.

Ladd declined to discuss any details of Thursday’s raids, but he did speak generally about grow houses run by black-market syndicates. He said such operations can amount to “indentured servitude.”

“People don’t live in these homes,” Ladd said of illicit grow houses in general. “They bought them solely to run marijuana operations.”

“These people never could have gotten to this country without doing this,” he added. “They will be told, ‘You owe us five grows.’ Then that same group will send a rip-off crew to steal the marijuana. They can never get out.”

Colorado’s recreational marijuana law was passed in 2012, and retail pot sales began on Jan. 1, 2014.

Deanne Reuter, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA, said that since 2014, agents in Colorado have raided 350 black-market marijuana grow houses and seized 100,000 marijuana plants weighing 12,000 pounds.

Updated 5:35 p.m. Jan. 31, 2019 This story has been updated to make clear that DEA spokesman Randy Ladd was speaking in general terms about how grow houses are run, and not specifically about the properties that were the subject of Thursday’s raids.

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Author: Kirk Mitchell, Sam Tabachnik
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