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21 people indicted in multi-national marijuana and money laundering case

Sixteen of the suspects are in custody; five remain on the run, officials said.

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo — Local and federal agencies announced Thursday afternoon a "major" grand jury indictment with statewide and national implications.

The 45 count indictment charged 21 people. 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner said the suspects were involved in organized crime. All of the suspects were charged with breaking the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA) and some of the suspects had felony drug charges added, Kellner said.

The COCCA charge carries an 8-24 year prison sentence and the felony drug charge carries an 8-32 year sentence, Kellner said.

Kellner was joined by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Apecial Agent in Charge Deanne Reuter and Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Steven Cagen for the announcement.

Officials said 16 suspects are in custody while five remain on the run. All of the suspects are Chinese nationals, officials said.

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The suspects grew and stashed illegal marijuana at homes around the state, Kellner said. The marijuana would then be trafficked out of state. Kellner said the suspects would then launder their money through social media apps and illegal money brokers in China. 

More than $1 million in proceeds have been seized, Kellner said. Law enforcement confiscated hundreds of pounds of finished marijuana and more than 10,000 marijuana plants, Kellner said. Reuter added marijuana plants produce about a pound of product every three months. She said 4,000 plants generate about $3 million every 90 days.

"My belief is that Colorado's experiment with legalizing recreational marijuana has made it easier for groups like this to flourish and use the imprimatur of legal marijuana operations in this state, to in many respects, hide in plain sight," Kellner said after being asked if legalized marijuana had impacted these types of cases. "And I recall very clearly when the discussion and the debate about legalizing marijuana in the state of Colorado was coming to a head, there were many people that said this was going to eradicate the black market and that is incredibly far from the truth. In many respects it has simply grown that black market as additional regulation and taxes have come on top of marijuana.

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