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Cedaredge PD recounts role in drug enforcement case

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NOTE: During the Cedaredge trustees' July 21 meeting, Mayor Gene Welch encouraged the other board members to read a Cedaredge Police Department report on an important, difficult and successful law enforcement operation that the local department played a key role in. The DCI reported on major events referenced in the account beginning in 2014. Below is text of the report that was submitted to the town board:

Special to the DCI
From CPD

If you read the DCI last week you probably read an article regarding CPD assisting the DEA and Sheriff's Office on several search warrants in Delta and Mesa Counties. We in fact were a very important piece of a multi-agency investigation that started with our agency in May of 2014.

In May of 2014 our office was informed of a possible indoor marijuana grow being set up on NW 9th Street. The original reporting party was a neighbor that was concerned as he had noticed several suspicious things taking place at a house on NW 9th Street. This concerned neighbor told Chief Sanders that he had observed the four-bay garage being framed in to include all the windows. The concerned neighbor also told Chief Sanders that he had observed several "air coolers" being placed on the rear and side windows. The neighbor stated that he had observed several Hispanic males at the residence working on the building but they only worked at night during the dark hours.

Because of this information Chief Sanders responded to the location and immediately recognized what the neighbor was describing. Chief Sanders knew from training and experience that this appeared to be an indoor marijuana cultivation operation. Chief Sanders then began an investigation on the address. In May 2014 CPD was able to identify several parties that were associated with the grow. Upon several follow-up visits and phone calls Chief Sanders identified a female party that was claiming to be the responsible person for the house and marijuana facility. This person was originally from Cuba via Miami, Fla., and had just moved to Colorado to grow marijuana under Amendment 20 (medical marijuana). This individual had a license to grow or possess up to 99 plants at a time and she also had family members with the same license amounts living with her and all were legal under Colorado law.

At the time Cedaredge did not have any type of local ordinance that regulated anything in regards to this type of situation. It is important to note that Chief Sanders and other law enforcement leaders were worried about this very situation taking place with marijuana under Amendment 20.

The town then began the long process of creating and adopting an ordinance to address the public safety concerns. The ordinance was a combined effort that took many meetings, proposals, heated discussions, and several re-works to get done but ultimately it provided some control on the marijuana grows headed to our area.

As 2014 progressed and the ordinance was still being worked on CPD stayed on top of the NW 9th Street issue.

Chief Sanders utilized several avenues to suppress the ever more evident criminal organization that had moved into our area. We utilized the state electrical inspector, town building inspectors and good old-fashioned police work to shut the grow down at the end of 2014. At that time, we utilized the not to code electrical system that had been installed without permits and the fear of jail to the handlers on scene not licensed to grow marijuana. This shut the grow down and everyone left the residence.

At a later date I [Chief Sanders] was advised that there was more activity at the 9th Street house. Upon a visit I was able to identify a new female party that was claiming responsibility and she too had a medical license for 99 plants. This party told Chief Sanders that she was moving to the area and that she planned to purchase the house. This party was also out of Miami via Cuba and stated that the previous tenant was her family. I advised her of the previous issues and what would be needed to legally cultivate marijuana. Chief Sanders then advised the female party that we were currently working on an ordinance and that it would limit her ability to grow large amounts of marijuana. I also told this party that the building would need to be reconstructed per the town building codes and that electrical and plumbing were also regulated. Chief Sanders contacted the landowner of the property and advised her of the situation. The landlord was reluctant to get involved and stated that unless they were violating the state laws they would not be evicted. At this point the department had hopes that the operation would move elsewhere. This did not happen, in fact the involved parties invested a bunch of money into the garage and modified the entire building. This included all of the electrical, plumbing, and structure requirements.

We also required a new transformer and power pole be put in to handle the excessive electrical pull. This process took approximately one year to happen with virtually no activity at the house other than minor construction. Then in 2015 we started observing different vehicles and people moving in and out of the address throughout the months. Because of the suspicious activity we again fired up our investigation. We were able to determine that there were multiple parties coming in and out of the area and they were all Cuban nationals via Florida. These parties were also connected to marijuana grows being conducted on the Front Range of Colorado.

CPD had been in contact with our surrounding agencies regarding these individuals as we had identified several other locations within the county. Chief Sanders spoke with the DEA and they also were aware of this group and had conducted several surveillance operations in Cedaredge. It became very clear that these parties were all connected and that they were in Colorado to grow commercial amounts of Marijuana to ship back out of state for profit. A plan was made to continue to monitor and build any information in connection to criminal activity we could. We would also be sharing the information among the involved agencies in an attempt to cooperate the investigations.

During our two years of investigation we were able to locate a second involved address within the town limits. This residence was discovered to be a sort of stash house for the group. CPD contacted the landowners who were unaware of the activities going on at their residence. On a follow-up contact CPD Officer Chris Curtis responded to a call for service at this location. Upon arrival we discovered multiple items that we knew to be used for credit card fraud. We obtained the items and upon proper search realized that we had seized a mountain of evidence that directly identified several suspects and hundreds of current and future victims.

The Sheriff's Office, Delta PD, and CPD had all taken multiple credit card related fraud reports and this discovery linked them all to one source. Once this information was known we coordinated with Delta SO, DPD, DEA, ATF, Secret Service, CBI and Mesa County agencies to ultimately obtain federal search warrants based on organized crime statutes.

On June 23, 2016, alongside of the above mentioned agencies we served search warrants on five locations. The warrants were all considered high risk and were conducted at the same time. 4 of the 5 locations were in Delta County with one being in Mesa County. The warrants produced numerous items of evidence in relation to the organized marijuana ring and for the credit card frauds. All marijuana and related equipment was seized and all five locations were shut down for growing. To date our location in town has been abandoned and upon advising the landlord of our actions she has decided to formally end her lease with plans to put the house on the market.

These types of investigations are hard and grueling and require hundreds of hours to work. Often the police department is blamed for not acting as quickly as people expect and in reality we are always working on getting rid of the criminal element. It just takes a lot of time to do it properly with our overburdened criminal justice system and an ever more liberal laws. Have faith that CPD and our partner agencies are doing all that we can to combat illegal activity no matter the size.

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Surface Creek
Tags: 
Cedaredge, drugs, police
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