Federal agents seized hundreds of pounds of marijuana, 161 pieces of jewelry and $800,000 in cash — including nearly $450,000 stashed in the trunk of a car — from Colorado pot businesses with Colombian ties, according to records obtained by The Denver Post on Wednesday.
The forfeiture document, in which federal authorities formally seek to confiscate the items, offers the most detailed account yet of the allegations stemming from Denver-area raids executed in November 2013. They were the largest-ever federal raids on the Colorado marijuana industry.
The document alleged that those indicted — Denver attorney David Furtado, marijuana business owner Gerardo Uribe, his brother and business associate Luis Uribe and Colombian national Hector Diaz — participated in a scheme that grew marijuana in Colorado, shipped pot to Chicago and Florida and smuggled cash to Colombia.
The men were indicted in connection to the Nov. 21 raids. They each could face 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges facing them. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Messages left by The Post for Furtado and Luis Uribe were not immediately returned. Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Walsh, said he could not comment because of pending litigation.
The document spells out how federal authorities relied on a web of confidential informants who reported on the activities of Furtado and others.
At one point, one of the conspirators complained he had accumulated $1 million in cash and needed a way to launder the money, according to the document. Furtado allegedly began funneling proceeds from about a dozen Colorado medical marijuana dispensaries into a Colombian bank account in undetectable amounts.
The document indicates that federal agents confiscated various amounts of cash from bank accounts and medical marijuana businesses and also $449,980 found in the trunk of Furtado’s car. Agents also seized five watches including a Rolex purchased in Las Vegas for $11,050 in cash, 161 pieces of jewelry, 1.8 million in Colombian Pesos ($883 dollars), a 2010 Jeep Wrangler and a 2007 Hummer H3.
A joint investigation involving IRS, Drug Enforcement Administration and Denver police began on Jan. 1, 2011, into the operations of the “Uribe/Furtado marijuana distribution network.”
Alleged conspirators began in July 2010 to buy numerous medical marijuana dispensaries including VIP Cannabis, 2527 Federal Blvd., in Denver and Grateful Meds, 110 Snyder St., in Nederland.
Someone whom Furtado recruited to start a residential grow operation became a confidential informant. The informant told agents that Furtado was “a master grower” who honed his skills in college with classmates and was planning to get out of law because of the lucrative pot business.
The informant said Furtado believed 10 marijuana harvests were diverted for sales outside Colorado and were not sold in medical marijuana dispensaries. Furtado recruited another person to grow marijuana in warehouses in September 2010, the document said. This person also became an informant.
A third source also said the marijuana was transported out of Colorado, according to the filing. This source overheard Furtado once arranging to have marijuana flown to Florida to be sold illegally on the streets. Furtado tried to get the source to sell pot illegally, court records indicate.
An undercover agent overheard Joseph Tavares, the manager of Grateful Meds, say that alleged co-conspirator Gerardo Uribe was clearing about $500,000 a month, documents say.
In August 2013, a fourth confidential source sent a $9,000 wire transfer to Colombia as a test to see if the money could be traced. In October 2013, Uribe-Cristancho told the informant he had “accumulated too much cash,” a total of $1 million, and needed help laundering the money. The informant said he could transport the money by air.
On Nov. 21, agents seized 13,524 marijuana plants, 750 pounds of processed marijuana and 2,500 pounds of marijuana products including edibles and lotions, the document says. They also seized 30 gallons of hash oil, 11 assault rifles, a shotgun and 10 hand guns.
A fifth confidential source told agents that Shawn Masad, a partner with Gerardo Uribe, the owner of VIP Wellness Center, which grossed $1.4 million in 2011, told him he intended to transport a harvest from 100 pot plants to Chicago for illegal sales. The informant was asked to take the pot to Chicago.
Although VIP stores had sales totaling only about $720,000 in 2011, Furtado told a source that they were showing a profit of $3 million, according to the document. He was running money through his trust account to buy assets and pay off lawsuits, Furtado allegedly told the informant.
On Oct. 31, surveillance officer saw Furtado leaving VIP with two large brown sacks. Denver police made a traffic stop and found nearly $450,000 in the trunk. Furtado, who gave the detective permission to search his trunk, told the officer the money was to be used to buy a metal business.
When the officer told Furtado the money reeked of marijuana, the attorney explained he had just left a marijuana dispensary and the money had been kept in a safe there. The detective confiscated the money.
Furtado later called the officer, admitted he had lied about what the money was to be used for, but said the money was not his and that it was needed to buy a warehouse that was to be used as a marijuana grow operation. He said they stood to lose $1.7 million in earnest money he had already paid in the warehouse deal.
The document says Colombian investor Ricardo Moises Pedrosa financed several of the grow operations with electronic wire transfers from Colombia to Colorado. Profits from the business were funneled back to him through a business called THMS Properties LLC., the document says.
On Jan. 26, 2012, Pedrosa sent two wire transfers, one for $100,000 and another for $300,000, to a Bank of the West account in the name of Furtado’s law firm. The following day, wire transfers totaling $300,000 went from the law firm to VIP Wellness Center’s West Denver Community Credit Union account.
Pedrosa also financed a Boulder marijuana dispensary owned by Wendy and Laszlo Bagi with a $250,000 loan on Feb. 23, 2012, the document said.
Pedrosa e-mailed a message in Spanish on Sept. 12, 2012 to Gerardo Uribe titled “THMS Properties pay dates,” explaining that $370,000 payments were to be made on the 15th of every month.
Another Colombian entity called Soluri Consulting funneled international funds to Uribe’s dispensaries with check memos “VIP/REMEDY,” the document said. Gerardo Uribe often carried about $15,000 in cash with him all the time.
The indictment indicates it is a federal crime to deposit marijuana proceeds in a bank because all money made selling marijuana is considered illegal under federal law.
Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kirkmitchell, denverpost.com/coldcases