Source: DEA, IRS, firefighters raiding four marijuana businesses tied to money laundering case

Agents appeared to have cut at least 2 safes open

DENVER - Federal agents and local officers are raiding four marijuana businesses tied to an alleged international money-laundering scheme.

Authorities first confirmed to 7NEWS that they raided VIP Cannabis at 2949 W. Alameda Ave. Wednesday morning, saying that teams executed a search and seizure warrant for the business. The same business was also raided last year.

Later, after our news partners at The Denver Post broke the stories about additional raids, a source confirmed to 7NEWS that there were raids at three other addresses in Denver: 4800 N. Brighton Blvd., 2640 E. 43rd Ave. and 755 S. Jason St. They all appear to be warehouses used for growing operations.

-- Fourth Suspect Arrested  --

As the raids were occurring, U.S. marshals arrested a fourth suspect, Gerardo Uribe, a 33-year-old Colombian. He appeared in Denver federal court Wednesday afternoon.

Uribe was the last of four suspects arrested under a federal indictment unsealed Monday. The indictment charged Uribe and his younger brother, Luis Uribe, along with another Colombian, Hector Diaz, and Denver attorney David Furtado with money-laundering crimes related to the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

The Uribe brothers ran VIP Cannabis, which federal authorities call the "VIP Wellness Center."

-- VIP Cannabis --

Video from AIRTRACKER7 showed firefighters and agents working around two safes that had been cut open at the business at 2949 W. Alameda Ave. in Denver. On the ground, 7NEWS photojournalist Pete Burd saw masked agents carrying items out to a waiting U-Haul truck through a smashed glass door.

A sign on the business said it was currently closed for remodeling and would "Be back soon."

Authorities said the raid was conducted by federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Diplomatic Security Service and the U.S. Marshals Service along with officers from the Denver Police Department and state and local law enforcement.

The indictment identifies VIP Wellness as a source of huge sums of cash from the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana.

On Oct. 31, 2013, Gerardo Uribe is accused of delivering to Furtado $449,980 in cash from VIP Wellness, the indictment states. Furtado and the Uribe brothers are also charged with laundering that "criminally derived" money through a Colorado Wells Fargo bank account in an effort to conceal it from federal authorities, the indictment states.

The indictment hinted that Wednesday's raids were coming. It included an asset forfeiture allegation, which allows federal agents to seize all property, including money, derived from criminal activity, including the alleged marijuana trafficking operation.

Our partners at the Denver Post reported April 16 that VIP Cannabis was no longer selling medical marijuana, putting it in compliance with a state order. 

State regulators this month issued notices of denial on the applications from VIP Cannabis and three related grow warehouses, citing after-hours sales, incomplete record-keeping and other violations, according to the newspaper.

The raid comes on the same day Diaz was in court. He was re-arraigned Wednesday morning and remains out on bond.

Furtado and Luis Uribe are scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

-- Indictment: Colombians investing in CO pot businesses --

Furtado, Diaz and the Uribe brothers are accused of wiring more than $500,000 from Colombian banks and investing it in Colorado marijuana growing and dispensary operations. Federal investigators are still working to identify who in Colombia provided the money and other potential accomplices in Colorado.

The federal grand jury indictment unsealed Monday also accuses the men of using a shell company and a Denver lawyer's trust account to launder money from illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

Furtado is a Denver lawyer and dispensary owner.

Diaz was arrested on a weapons charge during the raids last fall, and has also been charged in the money laundering case.

Authorities obtained an infamous photo of Diaz wearing a DEA cap while holding two assault rifles -- one in each hand -- with two handguns tucked into his pants. DEA is the acronym for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, which is investigating Diaz and the money-laundering case. 

During the Nov. 21, 2013 raids of marijuana growing and dispensary operations from Denver to Boulder County, DEA agents also seized five assault rifles, five handguns and a shotgun from Diaz's Arapahoe County home.

The indictment made public Monday said the men used the money from Colombia to purchase a sprawling warehouse facility at 5200 E. Smith Road in Denver. Their plan was to use the warehouse facility to illegally grow and distribute marijuana, the indictment states.

The indictment lays out a step-by-step conspiracy to create a sham company and several bank accounts to launder money and conceal it from state and federal authorities.  

  • In 2013, federal prosecutors say, Gerardo Uribe filed documents with the Colorado Secretary of State to incorporate a front company called Colorado West Metal, LLC. Diaz was listed as the person responsible for forming the corporation.
  • Furtado, the Denver attorney, was the registering agent for Colorado West Metal LLC. He opened a Wells Fargo bank account for the corporation and he was the only person who could sign the account's transactions.
  • The indictment says Furtado also used his attorney trust account, held in the name of his law firm, to orchestrate the purchase of the Smith Road warehouse property.
  • The indictment alleges that Diaz, Furtado and Gerardo Uribe used wire transfers to funnel $424,000 from a Colombia bank -- the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argenteria -- to the Colorado West Metal's Wells Fargo account with the intent to cultivate, manufacture and distribute marijuana.
  • The indictment states Furtado wired another $120,000 from the Banco de Occidente in Colombia to his attorney trust account with Wells Fargo in Colorado, with the intent to promote the cultivation, manufacture and distribution of marijuana. 

 

The defendants were indicted on a variety of charges, ranging from conspiracy to commit money laundering to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity.

Money laundering alone carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine.

The case is being investigated by the DEA, the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of State.

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