By Patty Nieberg, The Associated Press/Report for America
A group of 21 people accused of illegally growing and distributing marijuana in Colorado has been indicted in an alleged money-laundering scheme, county and federal officials said Thursday.
They grew and distributed marijuana throughout the Denver metro area, with facilities to grow and stash the drugs across the state, authorities said in a news release.
Officials have seized about $1 million worth of marijuana proceeds, hundreds of pounds of the drug and more than 10,000 marijuana plants, said District Attorney John Kellner, whose office covers several counties just south of Denver.
They laundered the money they made through social media apps, QR codes and money brokers in China, according to indictments based on a year-long investigation.
The 21 people face numerous charges that include racketeering and conspiracy, drug cultivation and distribution and money laundering, according to the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s office.
Sixteen Chinese citizens allegedly involved in the scheme have been arrested, and five others have outstanding arrest warrants, officials said.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. But companies must apply for marijuana business licenses to be a verified seller in the state.
Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws have made it easier for “groups like this to flourish,” Kellner said.
“When the discussion and the debate about legalizing marijuana in the state of Colorado was coming to a head, there were many people who said this was going to eradicate and end the black market — and that is incredibly far from the truth,” he added.
Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security Investigations participated in the investigation.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.