Operation Golden Go-fer: Minnesota skydiving planes used in Colorado marijuana ring

A Colorado investigation dubbed "Operation Golden Go-fer" has led to the indictments of 32 people who posed as medical marijuana caregivers while running an illegal growing and distribution ring. The investigation got its "Golden Go-fer" name since much of the marijuana was shipped to Minnesota, allegedly using the planes of a Winsted, Minn. skydiving business owner.

The indictments are the culmination of raids on multiple warehouses in Denver last October. Agents seized 4,600 pounds of marijuana, nearly 2,000 marijuana plants, 10 pounds of hash oil and approximately $1.4 million in cash. The illegal growing operations were in the same area as several licensed operations. According to the indictment, the co-conspirators planned to leverage Colorado's regulated marijuana industry to "hide in plain sight."

"We are grateful to our state and federal partners who we worked with on the ‘Operation Golden Go-fer' investigation," said Denver Police Chief Robert White. "These partnerships and investigations go a long way to send the message to criminals who think the Denver area is the place to setup illegal marijuana operations. The Denver Police Department has a unit of dedicated detectives whose main objective is to stop illegal marijuana operations in our city and Denver does not tolerate these crimes in our city. "

The organization previously drove shipments of marijuana and cash from Denver to Minneapolis, but in October 2013 started using the planes of Joe Johnson, owner of West Side Skydivers in Winsted, Minnesota. Johnson confessed to being a "go-fer" for the operation, making nearly 10 flights between the Boulder, Colorado municipal airport and Winsted, Minnesota.

Johnson played a key role in bringing down the organization when he was stopped last summer in Kansas with 66 pounds of marijuana and $330,000 in cash. According to the indictment, Johnson told investigators about the illegal Denver growing operation and distribution network, and arranged a meeting with another member of the organization under police surveillance.

Prosecutors believe the distribution ring made about $12 million over 4 years of operation. The money earned from selling marijuana in Minnesota was allegedly laundered through a massage business in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood of Minneapolis, and a property management company that leased warehouse space to licensed marijuana growers.

The 32 defendants are charged with 52 felony counts that include illegal marijuana distribution, money laundering, tax evasion, contributing to a hazardous substance incident, attempts to influence public servants and violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act.