145 marijuana plants seized from south Denver warehouse; police suspect illegal grow operation

No arrests yet, investigation continues

DENVER - Denver Police are investigating several suspected illegal marijuana grow operations in the industrial warehouse district near South Jason Street and West Warren Avenue.

Court documents obtained by 7NEWS state that on Feb. 24 police received a tip about a possible illegal pot growing operation at a warehouse on the 2100 block of South Jason State.

Police contacted state and city officials and learned there were no records for a licensed marijuana business at that location.

Police placed the warehouse under surveillance and spotted a man later identified as Todd Ray Nelson, 45, pull up in a maroon Chevy pickup with Minnesota plates.

Nelson told police that he leased the warehouse and ran a company that builds cell towers for "Verizon."

According to the affidavit, when Nelson was asked if marijuana was being grown inside, he replied that he "subleased part of the warehouse to some guys and that they are in the process of getting permits and building it out for a cultivation site."

When asked if there were plants inside, he replied that he "didn't know to the best of his knowledge."

Nelson declined to allow police to search the warehouse, so they obtained a search warrant.

While executing that warrant on Feb. 25, they found and confiscated 149 plants and several grow lights.

Police also made contact with a security guard, who told them that he worked for Green Guards of Colorado. The security guard's boss told police that Green Guards provided security for two other warehouses operated by the same people on nearby South Kalamath Street.

According to the affidavit, police determined that neither of those warehouses were listed in records as licensed grow or dispensary operations in the City of Denver or State of Colorado.

The owner of the warehouse on South Jason Street and one of the warehouses on South Kalamath Street told police that he leased warehouses to Todd Nelson and Billy Castro. Police are familiar with Castro. They identified him in a previous investigation as being involved in the cultivation of marijuana.

The owner of the other warehouse on Kalamath told police she had been leasing it to Nelson for more than a year.  She said that about a month ago, Nelson began leasing one of the other units as well.

Police say no arrests have been made but the case is still under investigation.

Illegal Grow Operations A Big Problem in Colorado

 

The Colorado Drug Investigators Association says illegal marijuana grow operations are a big problem in the state.

Jim Gerhardt told 7NEWS that no one knows the exact number of illegal grow operations.

"The line between what's legal and illegal is very blurry," he said. "People growing illegally are demonstrating that there's a huge black market impact on the state."

Gerhardt says the illegal grows are contributing to a myriad of problems.

"We see a lot of 18, 19 and 20 year olds that are illegally buying marijuana," he said. "We just had a death in Colorado of a 19-year-old Wyoming college student who got his hands on some edible products."

Gerhardt says illegal grows can have an adverse effect on how much money Colorado collects in taxes, and can have a detrimental effect on neighborhoods and even on the buildings where the marijuana is grown.

"Huge amounts of mold are being produced in those grow operations," he said.

Gerhardt also said that some people involved in illegal grow operations rewire the buildings.

Last May, firefighters had a tough time entering a burning warehouse in northeast Denver because of added security. Once inside, they tripped the circuit breaker and were surprised to find that electricity was still flowing through the wires because the tenants had rewired the building for grow lights and more ventilation.

"You can't put water on electrically charged wires," said Denver Fire Department spokesman Mark Watson.  

Watson told 7NEWS in May that any delay in using water means the flames can spread and possibly endanger adjacent businesses.

Marijuana operations take over neighborhood

 

A neighbor estimates that 70 percent of the warehouses in the vicinity of South Jason and West Warren are being used to grow marijuana. "I don't know how many are illegal," he said, "but they use a lot of electricity."

The neighbor told 7NEWS that one of the marijuana grow operations was using so much electricity that it burned out a transformer, which knocked out power to his business.

He says it took three days to get the transformer repaired.

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