21 indicted in Colorado in connection with international black market marijuana and money laundering scheme

Federal and local law enforcement on Thursday announced the takedown of a black market marijuana and money laundering scheme in Colorado -- an operation comprising 21 individuals growing millions of dollars worth of illicit pot across metro Denver and funneling their profits back to China through social media apps.

21 indicted in Colorado in connection with international black market marijuana and money laundering scheme

Federal and local law enforcement on Thursday announced the takedown of a black market marijuana and money laundering scheme in Colorado — an operation comprising 21 individuals growing millions of dollars worth of illicit pot across metro Denver and funneling their profits back to China through social media apps.

Drug investigators seized thousands of plants, hundreds of pounds of packaged marijuana and roughly $1 million during the investigation that began in August 2020, authorities said in a news conference at the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Centennial.

“I want to emphasize that while this is a micro-cell in our state of Colorado … we believe that this is going on on a macro-level across the entire United States, said John Kellner, the district attorney for Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

Charges for the 21 suspects range from racketeering and conspiracy under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act to drug cultivation and distribution to money laundering.

Kellner described the investigation as a “money-laundering case with a side of marijuana.”

The money, derived from these illicit Colorado marijuana grows, would cycle from the U.S. to China to Central and South America, and ultimately back to American soil.

“It just created the entire narcotic cycle — within the organizations, the cartels and through the money laundering organizations — and that is how the money moves around the world,” said Steve Cagen, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations. “A lot of times without actually moving the dollar.”

Colorado’s marijuana laws make it “easier for groups like this to flourish,” Kellner said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.