A customer walks away from VIP Cannabis at 2949 W. Alameda Ave. in Denver on Nov. 21, 2013. Federal officials raided the shop Thursday.

Feds arrest one, seize guns and ammo in Colorado marijuana raids

When federal agents swooped into a swanky Cherry Hills Village home last week as part of widespread raids tied to medical-marijuana businesses, they found a person inside holding a loaded gun, according to a court document unsealed Monday.

By the time they were done searching the $1.3 million home Thursday, agents had collected five assault-style rifles, five handguns, a shotgun and a “large cache of ammunition,” according to the document. It did not identify the person with the gun.

One person was detained and later arrested on suspicion of weapons violations, authorities announced Monday. As part of their investigation, agents had obtained an e-mailed photograph that appears to show that man, 49-year-old Hector Diaz, holding two semi-automatic rifles while wearing a Drug Enforcement Administration ball cap.

The details on the raids — disclosed for the first time Monday — come from an affidavit in the criminal case against Diaz and provide new context for the largest federal operation against medical-marijuana businesses ever in Colorado. Agents executed “approximately 15” search warrants during the raids, the affidavit states. Sources have told The Denver Post that the raids — which a search warrant shows targeted 10 men — were part of an investigation into a single enterprise that detectives believe may have ties to Colombian drug cartels.

Diaz, a Colombian national, was charged with a single count of possessing a firearm after having been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Appearing in court Monday afternoon, Diaz was advised of the charge against him and ordered held until at least Wednesday, when a hearing will determine whether he should be released and at which time more information about the raids will likely be disclosed.

The raids focused especially on stores, cultivation warehouses and individuals connected to the VIP Cannabis dispensary in Denver. On Sunday, an attorney for one of the owners of the dispensary sent a letter to Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh proclaiming his client’s innocence. Attorney Sean McAllister wrote that his client, Gerardo Uribe, did nothing wrong under state law and “will be vindicated by a full review of this matter.”

“The search warrants were executed against lawfully operating medical marijuana dispensaries under state law,” McAllister wrote. McAllister wrote that Uribe intends to cooperate in the investigation and is willing to meet with investigators.

The raids are not the first time, however, the people associated with VIP Cannabis have been accused publicly of marijuana misdeeds.

A lawsuit filed last month in Denver claims Gerardo Uribe and two other men named in the search warrant, Luis Uribe and Felix Perez, have not made good on hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to three men for the purchases of a dispensary on East Colfax Avenue and a grow warehouse on Elizabeth Street. The suit also alleges that the Uribes and Perez were suspected of hiding profits and product from their marijuana businesses and selling marijuana out of state.

“Marijuana product is unaccounted for, proceeds from the dispensary are unaccounted for and Plaintiffs assume that the Defendants have stolen product and money from them,” the lawsuit states. Another section of the suit alleges: “Plaintiffs believe that the Defendants may be transacting business with people in other states and do not want to reveal what the businesses are really making or who they are conducting business with.”

One plaintiff in the lawsuit is Jared Bringhurst, who is named as one of the investigation’s targeted subjects in the search warrant obtained by The Denver Post. Bringhurst wrote in an e-mail to The Post late Thursday that he has no involvement in the case and has sold all of his interests in the raided businesses.

In a response to the suit, the Uribes and Perez deny the allegations.

Other lawsuits also provide a glimpse into the high-dollar business of marijuana in which the raid targets were involved.

A lawsuit filed this year in Jefferson County accuses businesses controlled by Luis Uribe and another person named as a target in the search warrant, Carlos Solano, of not paying up on the purchase of a cultivation facility. In a settlement reached in September, Uribe and Solano agreed to pay $90,000 to the plaintiffs.

In both suits, the defendants were represented by attorney David Furtado — who is also named as a target in the search warrant. In 2011, a Douglas County woman who said Furtado set up a marijuana-growing operation in her garage sued Furtado, Gerardo Uribe, Solano and others, alleging she was misled. Furtado acknowledged setting up the grow in her garage — even though it was against Douglas County zoning rules to do so. But he denied misleading the woman.

Furtado was eventually awarded more than $600,000 in damages and attorney’s fees after the woman failed to respond to his counter-claims, court records show.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/john_ingold

Read this story on DenverPost.com »