Operation Fortune Cookie: Internal complaints filed against police chiefs, Dante Carbone

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Dan Tang
Turmoil continues in Operation Fortune Cookie, the state's largest drug bust that collapsed amid alleged cop snitches and paid-off politicians. Last week, we reported that a suit filed by two local cops suggests Thornton Commander Dante Carbone was the prime suspect in the leak that sunk the drug bust. Now, the two cops have filed complaints against Carbone as well as their bosses, Thornton Chief Jim Nursey and Northglenn Chief Russell Van Houten.

Nursey, in turn, has filed a complaint of his own -- one dependent on the lawsuit going away.

The two cops in question, Northglenn Detective Daniel Joyce and Thornton Detective Robert Lopez, were investigators on Operation Fortune Cookie in 2007 and 2008. But last March, they filed a federal lawsuit alleging that when evidence emerged that someone with intimate knowledge of the case had sent a tip-off letter to Dan Tang, the suspected leader of the drug ring and a politically connected restaurateur, the detectives reported their suspicions about Carbone to DEA investigators looking into the leak. For doing so, the two allege they were penalized by their superiors.

Both Joyce and Lopez were removed from the North Metro Task Force, the elite drug team both were assigned to, during the DEA investigation. Carbone, too, was removed from the task force, but in the two years since then, he's been promoted to police commander. But according to court records, a summary of the secret DEA investigation Joyce and Lopez were allowed to read as part of their lawsuit noted that approximately half of 29 Operation Fortune Cookie investigators interviewed as part of the DEA probe into the leak reportedly questioned Carbone's integrity or suspected that he may have been involved in compromising the drug investigation.

While the lawsuit continues, the issue appears to be heating up at the Thornton and Northglenn police departments. According to Patricia Bangert, lawyer for Joyce and Lopez, the two detectives filed complaints against their superiors earlier this week. Lopez wrote up his own police chief, Jim Nursey, for not taking action about Carbone, disregarding a Thorton police rule stating that you if are aware of a fellow officer committing a wrongdoing, you must report it. Lopez also wrote up Carbone for perjuring himself in a deposition taken as part of the lawsuit. Joyce, in turn, wrote up his boss, Northglenn Police Chief Russell Van Houten, for perjury in his deposition.

"What they are asking for is an investigation into these things, in light of what we learned from reading the summary of the DEA report," says Bangert.

Carbone has not responded to an e-mail requesting comment, and Van Houten has not yet returned a phone message left for him this afternoon. And Nursey, for his part, has little to say. As he recently told Westword, "This is a matter of ongoing litigation. Our response will be reflected in our attorney's responsive pleading to the motion... All of this will be addressed." But behind the scenes, it looks like Nursey has been making moves. Late last year, a Nursey filed a complaint against Lopez with their department's Office of Professional Standards. According to Bangert, the complaint was over Lopez recording conversations he had with Carbone and allegedly failing to follow a direct order from Nursey.

Punishment for Lopez could entail termination, but according to a December 2010 letter obtained by Westword, Denver lawyer Thomas Rice, writing on behalf of the Thornton Police, noted that "no further investigation or action will be taken on this inquiry pending resolution of the lawsuit."

"My concern was that this letter suggested one thing was dependent on another," says Bangert. "'We have this internal complaint brought by the chief against you, and we will hold it until the lawsuit is resolved.' That could be read as a threat."

If it is a threat, so far it's not working. According to Banger, Joyce and Lopez remain committed to their lawsuit.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Operation Fortune Cookie: Did suspicions about Dante Carbone hurt the case against Dan Tang?"

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