DENVER – Seventeen people were arrested and 1,002 marijuana plants seized when several hundred federal agents and SWAT team officers raided at least eight pot-growing locations in Cotopaxi and Westcliffe.
Twenty-eight guns and $25,000 was seized during dawn raids on Tuesday, authorities said.
Most or all of the defendants are Cubans, a prosecutor said.
Authorities said that some of the persons arrested have ties to Miami and they told law enforcement officers that they have lived in Colorado for only several months. Two people from Miami were willing to pay more than the asking price to rent property in Westcliffe, authorities said.
An officer wrote in an affidavit that marijuana grown at the sites was being shipped to Florida.
“Colorado’s permissive marijuana policies and laws continue to be exploited by large scale marijuana trafficking organizations, who are establishing their marijuana grow operations in Colorado to support their nationwide marijuana distribution network,” said Barbra Roach, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in Denver.
The investigation, which began in May of last year, is ongoing and more arrests are anticipated.
Details of the raid were disclosed Thursday in the affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA. It was written by Florence police officer Patrick Slattery, an officer of a task force comprised of the DEA and local law enforcement agencies.
Marijuana plants were being grown at locations raided, where occupants lived and were armed, Slattery wrote.
Twenty persons have been charged. All but three, who are fugitives, are in custody, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado said.
The defendants face a variety of drug trafficking charges, including conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than 1,000 plants of marijuana. They each face penalties of not less than 10 years, and up to life in federal prison.
Agencies that took part in either the investigation or the take-down, or both, included the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, Fremont, Custer and Pueblo counties sheriff’s offices, Pueblo and Florence police departments, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, Colorado State Patrol, and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Pueblo law enforcement agencies are part of the DEA task force.
“I would like to extend my appreciation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, DEA, Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office and the Pueblo Police Department for their direct assistance in this operation,” said Custer County Sheriff Shannon K. Byerly. “Their help was critical in conducting this without incident.
“I would also like to recognize the efforts of the men and women of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office who contributed to this mission,” Byerly said. “This was an important step to gain control over the illegal production and sales of marijuana in our area and we will continue to investigate those attempting to take advantage of the marijuana laws in Colorado. Our communities earned an important victory.”
“Because of the negative impact illegal drug trafficking has on our communities, we are very appreciative of the superb relationships that have been fostered between the federal agencies and all the local agencies involved,” said Fremont County Undersheriff Ty Martin
The defendants appeared in court on Thursday in Denver, where they were advised of their rights and ordered held in custody. A judge will determine next week whether they can be released on bond.