Denver Police officers stay out in front of VIP Cannabis, located at 2949 W. Alameda Ave., after the Drug Enforcement Agency officials raided it in the morning, April 30, 2014. The marijuana dispensary was previously raided in November 2013. (RJ Sangosti,The Denver Post)

Second suspect in Denver medical marijuana raids pleads guilty

A man connected to major federal raids on a number of Colorado medical marijuana businesses has pleaded guilty, acknowledging in his plea agreement that the businesses violated both state and federal laws.

Luis Uribe pleaded guilty to charges of marijuana possession and conspiracy to possess marijuana during a hearing Wednesday afternoon in federal court. As part of a deal with federal prosecutors, Uribe agreed not to contest the government’s seizure of more than $800,000 and several cars and watches. He also agreed to testify at any trials of his co-defendants, who include his brother.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed to ask that Uribe be sentenced to one year of probation, with 45 days of that to be served in prison. Uribe was originally indicted on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes that could have sent him to prison for 20 years.

Uribe is the second person to plead guilty of the four charged in connection with the raids, which targeted people and businesses connected to the now-defunct VIP Cannabis dispensary at South Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue in Denver. In an indictment handed up last year, prosecutors alleged that the four conspired to transfer money from Colombia and launder it through multiple bank accounts before using it to buy a warehouse for growing marijuana.

In a jointly agreed upon statement of facts included in Uribe’s plea documents, Uribe acknowledges trying to conceal the source of the money and dodging state regulations. Uribe also admits that the business distributed marijuana “through both state-licensed and clandestine means.”

That last part could be significant because one of Uribe’s co-defendants, attorney David Furtado, is currently arguing that a federal budget amendment that blocks the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with state marijuana laws makes his prosecution illegal. Furtado’s argument hinges on an assertion that his conduct was legal under state law. Federal prosecutors say it wasn’t.

In addition to Furtado, Luis Uribe’s brother, Gerardo, still faces charges in the case. The fourth man, Hector Diaz, pleaded guilty earlier this year.

While authorities originally said they suspected the operation may have ties to Colombian drug cartels, prosecutors have made no such allegation in court.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, or @johningold

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