Operation Fortune Cookie: Judge tosses cop lawsuit alleging internal leaks and retaliation

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Dan Tang.
Operation Fortune Cookie, a 2008 raid netting 24,000 marijuana plants, was the largest weed bust in state history -- but it imploded among claims of police snitches, paid-off politicians and a secret DEA investigation. Last March, two Fortune Cookie investigators, Daniel Joyce and Robert Lopez, filed a lawsuit alleging they faced retaliation for claiming their superior, Dante Carbone, leaked case information to the drug ring. Now a judge has tossed the lawsuit. So is Operation Fortune Cookie drawing to a close?

The North Metro Task Force (NMTF) an elite drug-investigation team, launched Operation Fortune Cookie in August 2007 when they found inklings of a major drug operation in the suburbs around Denver. The task force later joined forces with the DEA to take down the drug ring, which investigators had come to believe was run by Dan Tang, the politically connected owner of Heaven Dragon restaurant in Thornton, who'd served President George W. Bush, among others. But everything crashed down in February 2008. Someone with intimate knowledge of the case sent a tip-off letter to Tang, setting the raids in motion much earlier than investigators had hoped and triggering a rancorous DEA internal investigation into the NMTF. The results from the DEA probe were never revealed, but in the year following the raids, half of the eighteen-member task force left or was reassigned.

In the meantime, Tang was charged with one count of money laundering, the only one of 21 people charged in Operation Fortune Cookie to not face any drug charges. Then, in March 2010, he took a plea deal and was sentenced to prison for eighteen months. Given that this was considerably less than the seventy to 87 months indicated by the case's sentencing guidelines, investigators who worked on the case weren't happy; the DEA even filed an objection arguing that the feds were under-prosecuting the case. "I agree with DEA that the sentence makes absolutely no sense," task force head Tom Gorman told Westword. "I don't understand why it was so light, and you'll have to ask the U.S. Attorneys Office as to why."

According to the federal lawsuit filed by Joyce and Lopez, it was because Operation Fortune Cookie was corrupt from within, and when they tried to inform the DEA about it, they faced retaliation from their superiors. In particular, the lawsuit casts suspicions on Dante Carbone, a supervisor at the NMTF who reportedly acted strangely during Operation Fortune Cookie and, as it turns out, had ties to both Dan Tang and Wayne Campbell, the U.S. attorney in charge of prosecuting the case.

Earlier this summer, Joyce and Lopez scored a victory in their legal battle: The judge considering the case granted their motion to obtain the top-secret DEA report on the investigation into the police leak, as well as get testimony from the DEA agents who authored it -- information the NMTF and the police departments involved have long refused to divulge. A few weeks later, Thornton Police Chief Jim Nursey, Carbone and Lopez's chief and one of the major players in the legal maneuverings, announced his upcoming retirement.

But then, last week, Joyce and Lopez's lawsuit crumbled. Federal District Judge Christine Arguello ruled in favor of the defendants' motion to dimiss the case, finding that the two investigators' right to free speech hadn't been violated by their superiors, because they never spoke out as citizens, only as police officers. Lawyers for both sides haven't returned requests for comment, and it's unclear whether or not Joyce and Lopez will appeal the ruling.

To the police departments slapped with the lawsuit, the ruling is surely cause for celebration, allowing them to move on from a record-breaking drug bust that turned ugly and embarrassing and get back to dealing with more pressing matters. To those who believe Operation Fortune Cookie was rotten from within, the motion is a likely a disheartening setback, an indication that what they believe is the truth behind Colorado's largest drug bust might never be revealed.

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

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7 comments
Samuel Stray
Samuel Stray

The Denver Police call Edward "Eddie" Maestas Park "Seal Island" because the addicts in the park  make seal noises: ouff! ouff! ouff!

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

The federal judge had to toss the complaint. The superior cop gets sued by two inferior cops after the superior cop makes the bust.The inferior cops claim the superior cop informed Tang a bust was going down so Tang had to give $400,000.00 to RTD. Does anyone really believe the politically corrupt RTD Board and Light Rail Train is going to stop for a red light? This is Denver, a land-locked little Chicago with phone hacking TV stations and politicians.Tyranny.

Oaff
Oaff

The NMTF is scary as fuck though. If you ever made any money of marijuana no matter who you are or what channels you went through you better keep an eye out, for them, on you.

Oaff
Oaff

I still eat at Heaven Dragon. He never took down the pictures of him with the Bush administration, or any of the local politicians.

He probably would have taken those down if he felt betrayed, they obviously called in the favors he bribed them to do so.

They are triad gang, which is obvious because of the structure of the house, with the little old ladies answering the door for the police raids.

Triads do shit the old way I guess, its too bad he didn't legitimize !! He could have.

Corey Donahue
Corey Donahue

And what does the first line of the BS initiative the National Carpetbaggers are trying to push in regards to marijuana?  "For the more efficient use of Law Enforcement resources."  They are lying to us and allowing crooked cops to continue to arrest and wage a war on the people, educate your self about the BS "Regulate Marijuana for the more efficient use of law enforcement initiative."  We have many enemies in this war some come dress as friends.

Light Rail Tattler
Light Rail Tattler

I would like to correct the above comment. I first learned something about this from reading only parts of Joel Warner's coverage in the Westword. Since then I have learned Sgt Carbone and another investigator Garcia both failed polygraph tests, another investigator Bell refused to take a polygraph test. It does appear the two officers that filed a complaint in U.S.D.C. had a valid complaint.I could see why the Judge tossed out the case. There were multiple police departments involved in the investigation, Denver, Lakewood, Brighton, Thornton and various District Attorneys from surrounding counties.The trial would have opened a lot of Discovery that would have exposed a lot of confidential informants and cross examination. The trial would have been a disaster with all metro police departments pointing fingers at each other.

Concerned Observer
Concerned Observer

The officers in question were treated incredibly bad, where is the whistleblower law?  Does it not apply here?  They did the right thing and pretty much got their heads chopped off for it.  I DEMAND JUSTICE!!!  APPEAL! APPEAL!!  APPEAL!!!!!!

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