Federal and local agents fanned out across the Denver metro area — focusing, in particular, on an affluent Aurora neighborhood — on Wednesday morning to execute more than two dozen search warrants on suspected illegal marijuana grow houses, authorities say.
Hundreds of local, state and federal agents, including from the Drug Enforcement Administration, hit at least 24 homes, many of which are in a posh neighborhood near Aurora’s Cherokee Trail High School that features spacious new homes with three-car garages.
“Yes, they are serving search warrants in the Tollgate Crossing subdivision (of Aurora). They are related to a black-market marijuana operation,” DEA spokesman Randy Ladd said. “It’s a very affluent neighborhood. House there sell for $500,000 to $600,000.”
Ladd said the operation is currently underway. He declined to say how many warrants are being served, but that DEA agents and local law enforcement officers have fanned out across the metro area, though most are in the Tollgate Crossing area.
“You have to understand that people don’t live in these homes. They bought them solely to run marijuana operations,” he said. “It’s a large operation, but the size of this operation is becoming more and more common.”
Ladd alleged that black-market pot operations have brought many other illegal activities to Colorado, increasing the numbers of murders, robberies and gun sales.
“We find guns at almost all illegal grow operations,” he said. “A lot of the black-market traffickers are poly-drug operations that sell cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids and heroin.”
Two weeks ago, U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer predicted that he would target illegal grow operations disguised as legal marijuana grow houses as part of a new strategy in the drug war.
Troyer said his decision to focus on licensed marijuana dispensaries and grow houses in Denver metro neighborhoods is driven in part by poorly written and enforced Colorado laws that have caused the black-market drug trade in this state to boom and contribute to a spike in violent crime.
Going back to when Colorado’s recreational marijuana law was passed in 2012, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver along with state and federal drug task forces largely targeted illegal marijuana grows making no attempt to follow state laws. Most of them had operated in remote Western Slope counties. Colorado, local and federal agents and prosecutors reported great success, making dozens of arrests and seizing 7.3 tons of marijuana.