ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – An undercover investigation targeting illegal marijuana operations started nine months ago and ended with raid after raid on Thursday.
Investigators say the crime ring cultivated did a lot of its work in plain sight in neighborhoods such as Congress Park. It relied on a network of home growers communicating by cellphones in code to sell it across state lines.
When law enforcement found $5 million worth of illegal marijuana at a farm this summer, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler says that one bust kicked off a months-long investigation, revealing how ordinary Coloradans exploited state laws to run a crime ring.
“This was about home grown local folks growing and exporting marijuana out of the state of Colorado,” Brauchler said.
The investigation ended this week with raids on 19 homes and businesses and more than a dozen people arrested.
LINK: Grand Jury Indictment
A child was taken from one of the homes.
Brauchler says Michael Stonehouse led the group, and under the guise of a state license, distributed pot illegally.
“You don’t get to put hundreds of pounds of marijuana in duffel bags and run them over state lines and be compliant with the law,” Brauchler said.
According to a grand jury indictment, leaders ordered a drug runner to drive duffel bags full of marijuana more than 900 miles to Illinois, but the Drug Enforcement Administration had already infiltrated the group and had a source fly the marijuana there on their plane, helping them bust the ring.
DEA agents followed behind as Jason and Amy Jones drove 290 pounds of marijuana from Colorado Springs to Arkansas.
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The group generated at least 300 pounds of pot monthly, and distributed some of it locally.
“There were hundreds of pounds of marijuana being exchanged in the parking lots of a school in Aurora, a parking lot of a Starbucks near Castle Pines, in and about the populated areas of this jurisdiction,” Brauchler said.
The 16 people indicted face felony drug, money laundering and organized crime charges.
Investigators also recovered 39 weapons, including rifles, shotguns and handguns.