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Denver Cops Bust 23 Suspects Accused of Dispensary Burglaries

Law enforcement officials in Colorado last week announced the arrest of 23 individuals for their alleged involvement in more than 40 cannabis dispensary burglaries in the Denver metropolitan area.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement on Friday that the 23 defendants are members of two separate organized crime groups. The arrests came following a lengthy investigation by several law enforcement agencies including the Denver District Attorney’s Office, Denver Police Department, Aurora Police Department, the FBI, ATF, the Regional Anti-Violence Enforcement Network (R.A.V.E.N.) and the Violent Criminal Enterprise Task Force (V.C.E.T.F.).

“These arrests send an unmistakable message that law enforcement agencies throughout the Denver metro area are committed to working together to disrupt and disband dangerous criminal organizations,” said McCann. “The streets of Denver are safer today because of these two investigations and I am grateful to the many law enforcement officers who have worked so hard on these cases to get us to this point.” 

The defendants are accused of stealing or carjacking vehicles and using them to burglarize marijuana dispensaries, federal firearms licensees and other businesses in the Denver metropolitan area between September 2022 and November 2023, according to the district attorney’s office.

“Criminal networks don’t pay attention to geographic or jurisdictional boundaries. The FBI warrants were executed by our local partners at Denver Police, Aurora Police and Thornton Police, with support by our federal partners at Homeland Security Investigations and our state partners at the Marijuana Enforcement Division,” said FBI Denver Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek. “The FBI will continue to use all available tools and resources to suppress violent crime and keep Coloradans safe.”

40 Pot Shops Burglarized

The district attorney’s office added that the 23 defendants allegedly burglarized more than 40 cannabis dispensaries resulting in the theft of approximately $780,000 in cash and merchandise. In addition to motor vehicle theft and burglary, the defendants will face numerous other felony charges, including aggravated robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, and violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA). Officials also noted that one of the firearms involved in the case has been linked to an open murder investigation.

“The Denver Police Department has committed significant resources to V.C.E.T.F., an investigative taskforce consisting of both FBI and Denver investigators responsible for dismantling criminal groups driving violence in the Denver metro area,” said Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas. “The taskforce’s investigation is an incredible example of the unwavering commitment to the safety of our community by identifying individuals responsible for violent crime, to include multiple aggravated robberies, kidnapping, carjackings, and burglaries of dispensaries and small businesses, and they will continue working to hold accountable those causing significant harm in our community.”

Cannabis Banking Bill Still Pending in Congress

Cannabis dispensaries are notoriously popular targets for burglaries because of the valuable and easily liquidated merchandise they sell. Additionally, federal banking regulations mean that many dispensaries operate their businesses almost exclusively in cash. As a result, the shops often have large amounts of cash on hand, making them an even more tempting target for sometimes violent criminals.

A bill that would ease banking regulations to allow financial institutions to serve businesses in the cannabis industry has been introduced by federal lawmakers numerous times over the past 10 years. Originally known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, the legislation was passed by the House of Representatives several times as either a standalone bill or attached to other legislation. But the measure never saw a vote in the U.S. Senate.

In September, a group of bipartisan senators introduced an updated version of the bill, known as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act. After the newly revised legislation was introduced, the bill’s sponsors and co-sponsors Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Arizona independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and Wyoming Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis released a statement supporting the legislation.

“This legislation will help make our communities and small businesses safer by giving legal cannabis businesses access to traditional financial institutions, including bank accounts and small business loans,” the senators wrote in a joint statement. “It also prevents federal bank regulators from ordering a bank or credit union to close an account based on reputational risk.”

The new SAFER Banking Act is the result of months of negotiation between senators over several provisions of the original SAFE Banking Act. Under the measure, federal regulators would be required to “develop uniform guidance and examination procedures – including legacy cannabis-related deposits” and “update guidance related to hemp-related businesses and service providers.” Regulators would be prohibited from ordering banks to close an account “unless there is a valid reason.” The legislation also includes language to protect employees of state-legal cannabis businesses attempting to obtain residential mortgages funded by federal programs.

The SAFER Banking Act was approved by the Senate Banking Committee by a bipartisan vote of 14-9. The legislation now awaits a vote by the full Senate.

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