A state investigation into a large auto-theft scheme ultimately led investigators to discover a criminal organization that not only stole and resold luxury vehicles but operated illegal marijuana grows and distributed the products across state lines, according to a Dec. 12 announcement from the Drug Enforcement Administration and a task force from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority.
The investigation took six months and culminated in raids across the Denver metro area on Dec. 12. The agencies executed eight search warrants in total, either on suspected illegal grows or places where they'd traced stolen vehicles.
Authorities recovered 17 stolen vehicles Dec. 12 valued at a combined $1.2 million. Some, according to an indictment in the case, were stolen in Georgia or Florida and shipped to Colorado, where the VIN numbers were switched. The vehicles' documentation was then forged before they were resold.
The document states the organization stored vehicles and grew marijuana at locations in Aurora, Arvada and Federal Heights. Some members of the organization were based in Arapahoe County and other locations in the Denver metro area.
A grand jury indicted six individuals suspected in the case. Four were arrested Dec. 12 and two remain at-large. An additional four people were arrested on probable cause who had not been named in the indictment.
No one was injured in the multi-jurisdictional operation on Dec. 12. Investigators believe it's possible one of the two at-large suspects has left the state. They do not believe there is a threat to the public.
The suspects named in the indictment are Joshua Robertson, Sage Greco, David Guzman, Cody Kerstiens, Jason Siew and Brian Richburg. The document lists Robertson and Guzman as residents of Thornton. Greco was tied to a Brighton residence and Richburg to a Denver residence. Robertson relocated to Aurora later in the investigation.
Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine and California are some of the states involved.
Vehicles stolen by the organization included Porsches, Chevrolets and Fords, most between model years 2016 and 2018, Greenwell said. The indictment also lists Mercedes, Range Rovers and a Lamborghini.
Some stolen vehicles were purchased from buyers online, who likely didn't know they were stolen, investigators said.
Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force Cmdr. Mike Greenwell said the investigation began between May and June, when the task force received a tip concerning a person who attempted to sell a VIN-switched vehicle.
According to the indictment, Kerstiens approached an auto sports business in Littleton, hoping to sell a 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe worth $63,500. He also requested a hidden compartment be installed in a 2018 Dodge Charger worth $43,875.
After confirming the lead, investigators said they discovered additional stolen vehicles and, ultimately, the marijuana operation.
On Dec. 12, authorities recovered large amounts of cash, marijuana plants, processed marijuana ready for distribution, equipment used in hash oil labs and a large number of firearms. Authorities declined to offer specific amounts of any evidence collected in the raids, citing an ongoing investigation.
Individuals named in the indictment are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit theft over $1 million, aggravated motor vehicle theft, forgery and the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
Their suspected roles in the organization range from heads of the enterprise, suppliers, main-level and low-level distributors, assistants and runners.
Special agent in charge Tim Scott said the Denver DEA field office is seeing more and more criminal organizations move from out-of-state to Colorado to work in the marijuana black market.
“That's been an increasing phenomenon,” he said, adding black market grows are so prevalent they are likely found “in every neighborhood.”
Hash oil labs present “a huge danger” to the public because of their likelihood to catch fire or explode, and the equipment used in the labs is commercially available to the public, he said.
Scott said some of the warrants were issued for locations in residential areas.
Authorities remained tight-lipped on certain details of the investigation, which officials said is far from over.
“The case still remains ongoing," Assistant District Attorney Matt Maillaro with the 18th Judicial District said. “There's a lot of work to be done.”
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