By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) – The numbers contained in a court affidavit are enormous: 227 search warrants were executed during a multi-year investigation into homes being turned into marijuana grow houses. Some 66,000 pot plants were seized and 4,500 pounds of finished marijuana products in what is the largest marijuana operation in Colorado law enforcement history. A total of 42 people are under arrest.

(credit: CBS)

The court document says the investigation began in the summer of 2016 looking into what was called the “Asian Pride Drug Trafficking Organization.” It determined members of the “Chinese Drug Trafficking Organization” were supplying marijuana to Asian Pride members. The affidavit says the Chinese organization operated hundreds of grow homes in the Denver area.

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Those homes were the objects of raids by federal, state and local law enforcement over the past two years. Many if not most were homes that had been rented or bought in suburban neighborhoods.

The raids have been going on for well over a year. But only now after busts this week are indictments being revealed.

“To be clear, these grows are not ones that were otherwise legal under state law. These are pure black market, producing large quantities of marijuana for distribution out of state for criminal enterprises,” said U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn.

Ernie Martinez, an executive with the national Narcotics Officers’ Association, spoke in general terms to CBS4’s Rick Sallinger,

Ernie Martinez (credit: CBS)

“So we are starting to see a combination of organized crime, groups of crime taking these suburban homes and hiding in plain sight and utilizing these homes for these large grow operations.”

In federal court, seven Asian men and five women appeared before a magistrate to be advised of charges they face. The indictments were returned earlier this year but only unsealed now.

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(credit: CBS)

One names two men with conspiring with the intent to distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants.

Martinez says Colorado is being taken advantage of.

“We’re seeing a lot of organized crime from other countries because it’s easy pickings.”

So numerous are the illegal pot grow operations that they have become almost commonplace. But neighbors are certainly caught off guard when the busts happen.

Jim Lynch owns a house across the street, “I’m surprised, you know, I had no idea this was going on. If I did I would have called somebody.”

The results of this long investigation are now becoming clearer. The court affidavit says the case grew from a previous case involving restaurateur Dan Tang. The owner of Heaven Dragon restaurant in Thornton was sentenced to prison in 2010 following an investigation known as “Operation Fortune Cookie.”

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The operations spanned the Front Range including Arapahoe County where the District Attorney George Brauchler told reporters, “If you legalize marijuana and allow it to be grown in homes this is what you can expect to happen.”

Rick Sallinger