DENVER - An attorney targeted by federal marijuana raids says he and his business partners have no ties to cartels and have never trafficked drugs.
9Wants to Know spent several months digging for clues in a case that raises serious questions about the Colorado marijuana industry.
The biggest question of all, are drug cartels coming to Colorado and using legal marijuana to make money illegally?
Widespread raids in November targeted more than a dozen marijuana businesses and grow operations.
Agents believe drug cartels are coming to our state and using the front of legal marijuana to make money illegally.
On November 21st, 2013, the largest federal raids ever on medical marijuana in Colorado targeted dispensaries, warehouses, and homes.
Federal investigators tell 9Wants to Know, they're gathering evidence to prove Colombian drug cartels are operating in Colorado.
Denver attorney David Furtado is one of ten "target subjects" named in a federal search warrant.
He's either a co-owner or lawyer for many of the raided businesses.
"It's been a horrible nightmare," Furtado said.
Federal agents seized millions of dollars in marijuana plus computers, cell phones, and records.
Furtado says the blow to his reputation has been "immeasurable."
"I'm ashamed," he said.
Nearly three months after the raids, most of the marijuana businesses are back open and the federal investigation is "ongoing."
A high ranking law enforcement source speaking on condition of anonymity tells 9Wants to Know investigator Jeremy Jojola, the US Attorney's office is still working on the case, which could "set a precedent" for future marijuana enforcement in Colorado.
The source tells Jojola that investigators believe Colombian drug Cartels have taken root within the medical marijuana industry here in Colorado, and are ignoring regulations to make big time money illegally."
Furtado says he and his associates are not cartel members and have no ties to cartels.
Fuirtado, and the other target subjects, have not been charged or even publicly accused of criminal activity.
The federal case file remains sealed and investigators are not authorized to discuss the case.
The attorney for Furtado's business partner, Gerardo Uribe, turned down an interview request from 9Wants to Know.
Uribe estimated in November he lost $2 million dollars worth of marijuana and had to lay of dozens of workers, after the feds raided his marijuana businesses.
His lawyer wrote a letter, saying "Uribe is innocent of any wrongdoing" and is fully cooperating with investigators.
"You would be stupid to get into this business and be part of a cartel. I mean camera, camera, camera, camera, IRS. We wouldn't get into this business and be part of a cartel. That would be a stupid decision," Uribe told 9Wants to Know a few days after the raids.
Furtado's former business partner would only speak to 9Wants to Know if we concealed her identity.
"I was becoming fearful of some of the things that were going on," she said.
She allowed Furtado and his associates to put marijuana plants and growing equipment in the garage of her Douglas County home.
She, Furtado, and Uribe are also co-owners of a Denver warehouse, which floor plans show it was converted into sophisticated marijuana grow operation.
The pot was supposed to be sold in the same dispensaries, later targeted in those federal raids.
Emails show their business relationship became hostile and both sides sued each other.
Furtado won when she didn't show up to court.
She says, by that time, she was already working with the feds.
"I needed to go to the authorities and tell them what my suspicions were," she said.
She says those suspicions included drug trafficking.
9Wants to Know has confirmed, Furtado's former partner is a confidential informant in the federal drug case involving suspected ties to Colombian cartels.
"I was becoming a problem for them," she said.
Emails show her taunting her former business partners, warning them she was working with the DEA, more than a year before the raids.
She gave investigators names, numbers, and license plates.
"I was asking way too many questions," she said.
The only arrest related to the case so far has been Colombian national Hector Diaz, now awaiting trail on a weapons charge.
Diaz was not one of the ten "target subjects" listed in the search warrant, but he was seen in a photo wearing a DEA cap, smiling while holding two guns.
His visa doesn't allow Diaz to carry a firearm, which is why he was charged.
Agents found Diaz in a Cherry Hills village home on the day of the raids.
A court order forbids Diaz from having any contact with his associates, including his lawyer Furtado.
"We're not part of the cartel," Furtado said.
Furtado his partners now live under the dark cloud of an ongoing federal drug investigation, with no idea if charges will ever come.
Tom Gorman is Director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which is connected to the White House National Office of Drug Control Policy.
Gorman's team put out a report in August showing a 407% increase in marijuana smuggling busts since 2005, before medical marijuana was legal in Colorado.
Most of the pot was coming from Denver, Boulder, and El Paso counties.
It was being smuggled primarily to Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, and Nebraska.
Gorman says marijuana is often sold for twice as much on the black market in states where it is not legal.
"You have a very desirable product with 48 other states that are potential customers. My God! What a market that is," Gorman said. "Our intelligence tells us, and all indications are, [drug cartels] are going to move in if they haven't already."
Gorman says any cartel activity in Colorado creates huge potential problems for police and citizens.
"[Cartels are] treacherous and they have no sense of morality," Gorman said.
Drug-related violence has killed tens of thousands of people in Mexico in the last decade, but Gorman says we won't see that level of violence.
He says cartels will keep a lower profile in Colorado, and avoid drawing any attention to their activities.
Meg Collins is Executive Director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, which advocates for the marijuana industry.
Collins points to safeguards in place in Colorado to prevent drug trafficking, like seed to sale tracking, and says the increase in marijuana smuggling busts is a good thing.
"I think it shows vigilance by law enforcement," Collins said,
Collins says a change in federal law, could eliminate the black market altogether.
"I mean if you legalize [marijuana] in every state in the country, then you're not going to see people transshipping across borders because its legal. You can get it anywhere in your state," Collins said.
Legalizing marijuana at the federal level would take action by congress.
"We have 21 states plus the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana. And that momentum is building and continuing to grow," Collins said.
Three months after the federal pot raids, none of the ten target subjects have been arrested and the feds will only say their investigation is "ongoing."
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