Six weeks before the nation’s first retail marijuana shops open in Colorado, federal authorities on Thursday raided more than a dozen Denver metro area marijuana facilities and two homes.
In the largest federal raid on Colorado marijuana businesses since medical marijuana became legal, federal law enforcement agents with an assist from local police officers executed search and seizure warrants at multiple dispensaries and cultivation facilities — at least a dozen in Denver alone.
Agents also raided two private residences, according to sources speaking to The Denver Post on condition of anonymity.
Federal officials wouldn’t give specific reasons for the raids, other than to say one of eight federal concerns around marijuana have potentially been violated. Those concerns include trafficking marijuana outside of states where it has been legalized and money laundering.
A search warrant obtained by The Post identifies 10 “target subjects” associated with the raids.
James “Skip” Wollrab, an attorney for one of the targets, said his client did nothing wrong. He said he followed state regulations closely.
“They took $1 million worth of plants from his facility,” said Wollrab, who represents Laszlo Bagi, owner of Swiss Medical in Boulder. “They didn’t leave any instructions, saying don’t replant. There was no court order of cease and desist. No explanation.”
Outside Swiss Medical, agents left a pile of seized marijuana stacked in the snow like Christmas trees until a front-end loader scooped it up and a truck hauled it away.
Wollrab said the agents were also raiding Bagi’s grow facilities in Commerce City and the effect will likely bankrupt his client.
Another raid targeted one of the largest dispensaries in the state — VIP Cannabis at 2949 W. Alameda Ave. in Denver. Broken glass from a shattered front window littered the parking lot while masked agents hauled boxes of evidence into a U-Haul truck. Police turned customers away. The dispensary’s website said it would be closed on Thursday and Friday.
The president of VIP, which was formed in 2009, is identified in state records as Carlos Solano. Luis F. Uribe is identified as the vice president. Neither could be reached for comment Thursday.
Both men are identified as “target subjects” in the search warrant, which gave authorities the go-ahead to seize everything from pot plants and cash to financial records, safes and computer flash drives.
Also named in the search warrant were Gerardo Uribe-Christancho, David Furtado, Juan Guardarrama, Carlos Solano-Bocanegro, Jared Bringhurst, Felix Perez, John Frank Esmeral and Joseph Tavares.
Efforts to reach them for comment Thursday were not successful.
State business records tie Bringhurst to a grow warehouse at 4242 Elizabeth Street in Denver that was raided Thursday, according to a man at the property who declined to be identified. The grow is associated with a dispensary called Golden Goat Wellness in Denver, records show. Bringhurst is identified as the dispensary’s registered agent.
No arrests were made in the raids, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in Denver. Dorschner said the raids were being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service criminal investigations unit, the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement.
“Although we cannot at this time discuss the substance of this pending investigation, the operation under way today comports with the Department’s recent guidance regarding marijuana enforcement matters,” Dorschner said in his e-mailed statement to The Post.
“While the investigation is ongoing, there are strong indications that more than one of the eight federal prosecution priorities identified in the Department of Justice’s August guidance memo are potentially implicated,” he said in a later statement.