Skydiving planes used in $12M Colorado-Minnesota drug ring, charges say


At least $12 million worth of illegal medical marijuana was trafficked out of Colorado – and most of it was brought to Minnesota – in what Colorado officials are calling "one of the [state 's] largest and most sophisticated criminal enterprises" since medical marijuana became legal in 2000.

Thirty-two people were charged in a 52-count indictment, which alleges Tri Trong Nguyen oversaw an illegal drug trafficking ring over a four-year period in which marijuana was grown in warehouses around Denver, then harvested, packaged and shipped from Boulder, Colorado, to Minnesota using the planes of a Minnesota-based skydiving company.

On at least one occasion drugs were driven to Minnesota and Texas, the indictment notes.

The indictment follows raids at multiple Denver marijuana warehouses last October, where prosecutors say growers falsely posed as medical marijuana caregivers.

The investigation was dubbed "Operation Golden Go-fer" – a reference to the University of Minnesota's mascot, as well as the operation's member-turned-informant who served as a "go-fer" to the organization, the Denver Post reports.

That informant is Joseph Johnson, owner of West Side Skydivers in Winsted, Minnesota, and in Houston, Texas, the indictment notes. He had an arrangement with Nguyen in which he'd use his company's planes to transport the marijuana from Colorado to Minnesota and return with cash for the drugs, the indictment says.

From October 2013 through June 2014, Johnson transported more than 1,500 pounds of marijuana and over $2 million in cash proceeds between the two states, the indictment says.

Bringing the ring down

Johnson ended up playing an integral role in bringing down the illegal drug trafficking operation, FOX 9 reports.

He began cooperating with investigators after he was stopped in Kansas with 66 pounds of marijuana and $330,000 in cash in June 2014. Johnson confessed to his role in the drug ring, the indictment notes, and then worked with police to arrange meetings with other members of the organization under police surveillance, FOX 9 adds.

Johnson and the other 31 people named in the indictment face charges that include violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, illegal marijuana distribution, money laundering, tax evasion, contributing to a hazardous substance incident and attempts to influence public servants.

In a news release Thursday, Colorado authorities said most of the people indicted have been arrested and are awaiting their initial court appearances.

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