- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

DENVER — Federal agents raided a Denver marijuana dispensary early Wednesday suspected of having ties to a Colombia drug cartel — as the Drug Enforcement Administration announced its first major arrests since the state legalized recreational use of pot in 2012.

Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service, along with state and local law enforcement, burst through the entrance of VIP Cannabis and began removing boxes of items, according the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DEA.

Four men were attempting to mix Colombian monies with the proceeds they were making from selling marijuana in the U.S. to help further their drug trafficking efforts, the DEA said Wednesday. Three men were arrested in Denver, the fourth remains at large.

The men were identified as Hector Diaz, 49; David Jeffrey Furtado, 48; Luis Fernand Uribe, 28; and Gerardo Uribe, 33 and who is at large. They have been charged with a firearms violation, conspiracy and money laundering, among other charges. If convicted, they would face a maximum penalty of more than 40 years in prison and fines of more than $1 million.

Luis Uribe and David Furtado are slated to go before the magistrate on Thursday for a detention hearing and arraignment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The raid follows Monday’s unsealing of a federal indictment that charges four men connected to V.I.P. Cannabis in Denver with money laundering related to the cultivation and distribution of marijuana.

According to the DEA, the men set up a shell corporation called the Colorado West Metal to establish a bank account at Wells Fargo Bank in Colorado. They then deposited hundreds of thousands of dollars into the account via wire transfers from Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argenteria (BBVA) and Banco de Occidente — both in Colombia — as well as cashier’s checks and money deposits made from the men’s burgeoning U.S. marijuana business.

The men then used their Wells Fargo account to purchase a large grow house in the Denver area, the DEA said.

Colorado became the first state in the nation to open retail marijuana shops Jan. 1 after voters legalized recreational pot in November 2012.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said the Justice Department was going to respect Colorado and Washington state’s marijuana legalization laws. However, a Justice Department memo to U.S. Attorneys in those states said they can pursue marijuana charges in certain cases.

VIP Cannabis was part of a larger raid in November aimed at unearthing connections to Colombia drug cartels that included more than a dozen Colorado pot shops and cultivation facilities.

The DEA, the Internal Revenue Service and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Services are participating in the ongoing investigation.

• Kelly Riddell reported from Washington

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