- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

DENVER (AP) - Federal prosecutors want to take ownership of luxury cars, homes, watches and more than 1,000 pot plants seized from marijuana growers accused of illegally cultivating pot and sending it to Florida, a case authorities say represents the growing problem of illegal drug traffickers seeking a safe haven in Colorado’s flourishing marijuana industry.

A forfeiture lawsuit filed Thursday involves a case in which 20 people, many of them Cuban, were accused of buying properties in rural southern Colorado to illegally grow pot. The group would then drive or ship the marijuana to Florida, where it can sell for more than double what it fetches in a legal Colorado shop, according to court documents.

U.S. Attorney John Walsh has said the case illustrates the trend of illegal traffickers growing weed among the state’s sanctioned pot warehouses and farms, then covertly shipping it elsewhere and pocketing millions of dollars from the sale. In many cases, drug dealers make no effort to comply with the state’s pot laws.

The court filings offer a glimpse into how lucrative such an enterprise can be. When investigators raided the properties in September, they found more than $30,000 in cash, Rolex watches, 28 firearms, 50 pounds of dried pot, more than 1,000 plants and hundreds of pieces of growing equipment.

None of the 14 people whose names were included in the forfeiture filings had employment histories in Colorado, and some of them had criminal backgrounds that included drug trafficking, according to the court filings.

The documents also highlight the complexity of such investigations. This probe took more than a year, with authorities relying on evidence that included electric bills from the properties, because marijuana grows require large amounts of electricity.

The accused drug dealers racked up massive electrical bills, especially compared to the properties’ previous owners, the documents show.

When a fire erupted at one of the homes due to electrical issues in June, its residents wouldn’t let law enforcement officers inside. Neighbors told police they had seen them loading marijuana into cars before firefighters arrived.

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