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[00:00:00]

This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. Alicia Ranie blinked her eyes into the bright California sunshine as she exited a store on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.

[00:00:27]

She was making her way back to her parking spot when suddenly squad cars swooped in on her position.

[00:00:34]

Officers jumped out of the vehicles with their hands on their pistols.

[00:00:38]

Alarmed, Rainey spun around to see what all the commotion was. Had there been a robbery, she didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

[00:00:46]

And that's when she realized the officers were coming straight towards her.

[00:00:51]

I was arrested on a warrant for a fleeing a fugitive.

[00:00:56]

The officers told Rainey she was a fugitive as they clicked cuffs around her wrists. The next thing Ranie knew, she was sitting behind bars at a downtown L.A. jail, her mind raced. What did the police mean? That she was a fugitive, a fugitive from what she thought, backwards and then a sinking feeling. This wasn't related to her time in Colorado.

[00:01:19]

Was it? If you'll recall, Alicia, Ranie was the 69 year old tree recruited at her son's wedding in 2012 over drinks, Tre had made Ranie a business pitch.

[00:01:31]

Yeah, it's legal, he says. You get a big smile on his face.

[00:01:36]

As the oldest member of the syndicate, Rainey stuck around Colorado for two years working as a caregiver. Bahrani burned out on the pot business after turning 71. She never saw the 10000 dollars a month tree promised her and weed hadn't been a magic bullet in helping her son Jordan deal with his multiple sclerosis like she'd hoped so. In 2014, Rainey moved to Los Angeles to be with family.

[00:02:01]

And it wasn't like I escaped California. I filed a change of address for Mitt Romney, had heard about the October SWAT raids in Colorado.

[00:02:10]

She sure was glad she decided to leave the business. But five months later, when a grand jury indicted 32 people with crimes connected to the syndicate, nobody notified me that I should be in court.

[00:02:23]

Nor did she know that the grand jury charged her with 27 counts of alleged criminal acts, including racketeering, money laundering and illegal drug distribution. But that was just the beginning of her surprises. Law enforcement extradicted ranie to Colorado.

[00:02:40]

And when she arrived at the downtown detention center in Denver, I walked off of the elevator and into this office space where you before you get into the cell and there's the bars and behind the bars, Sheila and Liz Tree's sisters.

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I was dropped dead.

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I couldn't believe it. I was so surprised. We hugged. We left. You sit with us, she said. She was filling filling me in on all the stuff, including the SWAT raids.

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She said that they they came into her house like storm troopers through the windows on ropes with guns.

[00:03:23]

By the time Sheila recounted her experiences, Ranie had met with a public defender and read the grand jury's indictment. But the state issued it weeks before. Rainey couldn't believe that three sisters still sat behind bars. After all, the grand jury charged their brother with more criminal counts than anyone. And the word was Tre never even got arrested.

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Isn't that something? Because he's he's a slippery fuck. That's why he is.

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He manages to save his ass every time.

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Raney's story was already playing out differently without the proper means and connections.

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Her future looked rocky because money and power don't just define the business world, but also the justice system.

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Would anyone lend her a hand? It didn't seem likely if trees on sisters were in jail.

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I asked Ranie about that. I mean that when you saw I was immediately in jail, did they have anything to say about that? Like, I can't believe we're being hung out to dry.

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No, they don't talk bad about him. Maybe he's the spoiled brat. Maybe the whole family took care of him. Who knows? There's different family dynamics.

[00:04:37]

Loyalty is certainly part of the win family dynamic. Trini's siblings refuse to rat on each other. They closed ranks. Most everyone else sang like canaries. So after the syndicate's fall, who ultimately came out ahead? And what did it mean for all those decades long friendships? What about justice? Did the punishment fit the crime? And finally, what did the syndicate's reign on the black market mean for the state of Colorado and the cannabis industry writ large in this last episode of the season Consequences?

[00:05:18]

I'm Chris Walker, your host in the series about high flying pot smugglers, the rise and fall of a criminal enterprise and the evolution of marijuana's black market in the era of legal weed from Fox at the sink, an imperative entertainment. This is the syndicate. You want to get over it? Is there any let me put it this way. Let's skip over for anything that you can think of at this moment related to the narrow subject we've talked about, that you think you should have understanding that it's almost certain we're going to meet in the future to talk about.

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Oh, crazy Tom, crazy Tom. He's he's on the indictment. He is the one that Todd Cayler and all these guys are so cocky, very real. And three always took credit for that.

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You've been listening to snippets of these interrogation recordings all season. There's a reason they're so incriminating and there's so many of them. As I mentioned towards the end of last episode, Terry never planned a way to coordinate everyone's cover stories in case cops ever busted his organization. He paid dearly for that mistake. As police called in five, 10, 15, then 20 members of the syndicate, many floundered. Their attempts to distance themselves fell apart not only in the face of mounting evidence, but because law enforcement put the squeeze on them.

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They let me know the magic number 46 every time I saw them that I was facing 46 years in prison. If I didn't cooperate.

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That's Doug Dunlap, the science guy he hired to do cannabis extractions in a lab.

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What they did is they sat you down in front of everybody else's proffers on video proffer is another word for voluntary interrogation. So my attorney would put them in my face and make me see what everybody else is saying.

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So we don't know. What did you see him do over here? Did he ever say, like, I'm doing this for the good of mankind or what was his story? All he was doing to my dog is just a mad scientist and enjoy doing it. He was kind of caught me like that.

[00:07:50]

He was doing it for money and they tried to play us off like that. As Dunlap explains it, the interrogations turned into a race to see who could be the best rat. The cops showed suspects who is confessing. And Dunlap says that seeing other people dish dirt on him meant that he had to do the same. He couldn't let other defendants control the narrative. Some, like Pat Kincannon, considered it a cruel game. As a longtime friend of some of his co-defendants, he agonized over whether to cough up more evidence against them.

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These are some of the closest people I've ever been around. You know, it's awful.

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And I fought it for everything I could. I being kind of in the upper echelon of everything, was extremely hesitant to even say anything or do anything.

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I couldn't bring myself to do it. I waited till the very last day. And finally the prosecutor said, you're almost out of time, almost out of time before the prosecutor withdrew a plea deal.

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He's like, I've had three other people come in and they've given me the whole story. What else could Pat do but confess? And the more the cops learned, the more they controlled the interviews with drug and marijuana.

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Joe would probably take the marijuana wherever he had a buyer.

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I'm not sure where in the state, but probably out of the state. OK, we're going to you just need to start, OK? As you know, you're lying, right? You know, you're not being forthright. You know, you're not being a point of contact.

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So so the point of it is, is, oh, stop distancing yourself. I don't know. OK, I didn't I just wanted to be medical marijuana.

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Man Stop it. Agents, especially Randy Ladd with the DEA, didn't tolerate any equivocating from the likes of Cayler Gurvich.

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This is not something that we just coming in here on a fishing expedition. I know that. OK, so you can go out and speak to your attorney and you decide whether you're going to come in and be honest, because if you're not going to be honest, we are not.

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Law enforcement knew exactly what they were doing. Rather than prepare for trial, they tried to convince all the defendants to take plea deals.

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Everyone had the option of receiving reduced sentences if they volunteered information. And in one instance, a defendant came in hoping to get her charges dropped altogether.

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So after this happens in her house, did you ask any question? Of course I said, what's going on and what happened? Why did they do this? And he said, I don't know. I mean, they think we did something illegal.

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Trees partner Christine Root, who agents questioned about her conversations with Tree after a SWAT team raided their Cherry Creek apartment.

[00:10:41]

It just seems like there was a lot of cash. I guess over a hundred thousand dollars in your possession, I don't it doesn't seem to add up a lot and I don't feel like we had a hundred thousand dollars and that was not the world that I lived in, but nothing that you raised. The fact about the world that I lived in is the world that actually believed that I lived and that I was aware of that I knew anything about. And I still I'm sorry, I have a really hard time because I know that the things president said about me are not true.

[00:11:14]

I was not some financial mastermind running some mafia drug scheme. And so I have a hard time just wrestling. I trust me and I love love it for so long that I feel emotionally really hard to wrap my mind around what you guys are saying to be true, because that's not the world that I knew at all. Does not the world that I lived, you know, used cocaine. You don't know. Is Coke OK? You know, get fat rich?

[00:11:44]

No. Rich, really? No. Do you know about his gang connections? I've never heard of them. I don't know. Do you know that he's threatened people before and their families know that trade has business with him? Did you have a tree shipped marijuana to him? Did you know the tree ships marijuana to Minnesota now? Do you know the tree sells marijuana? No, he was what I knew was he's a landlord, that he rents space.

[00:12:11]

So that had nothing to do with the marijuana itself. That was the responsibility of the caregivers. That was their business.

[00:12:19]

Detectives and prosecutors suspected that Christine carried out the bulk of the syndicate's money laundering. Why she made so many bank deposits.

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What about all those money order transactions? Christine responded that she was just doing errands for Tre little favors at his bequest.

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Those lines wouldn't have worked for any ordinary member of the syndicate, but Christine went to extra lengths with her defense. She passed a polygraph test and by submitting to extensive questioning without tipping off a lie detector, she challenged the state's ability to take her to court.

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Prosecutors ended up dropping over 30 criminal charges against her out of the 32 people indicted. She's the only one who didn't plead guilty. Everyone else took a deal. No one went to trial.

[00:13:08]

But what their deals looked like varied widely.

[00:13:11]

Most lower and mid-level members of the syndicate agreed to felony convictions in return for one to four years of probation.

[00:13:18]

But a few received jail time. Tree's brother when had a previous felony and received two years in prison. The state also hit Cayler Gurvich with a stiffer penalty, as Aaron LORRING, Trees enforcer, told me.

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Listen to the show. The cops don't. His father died or had a heart attack and he left out of state and he wasn't supposed to have something they like to call his dad, dickheads like Cayler ended up with a four year prison sentence entry.

[00:13:52]

The guy at the top, a judge, sentenced him to 11 years in prison.

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So the cops won.

[00:14:01]

Prosecutors and agents patted themselves on the back for taking down a huge organization, securing guilty pleas from 31 individuals and making sure the kingpin face the stiffest penalties of all. In the following months, they had even more reason to puff out their chests. Legislative victories after news of Operation Golden Gopher broke, lawmakers in Denver revised the city's medical marijuana caregiving rules.

[00:14:27]

Monday night, Denver City Council tightened things up, limiting caregivers to thirty six plants.

[00:14:33]

Instead of leaving, the number of the city council made that change, specifically because of the syndicate. Then, in late 2015, the Colorado legislature put limits on the total number of plants each caregiver could grow, closing the loopholes in the state's law. Just like that, the government was back on top. Case closed. From here on out, something like the syndicate could never happen again, right?

[00:15:05]

Deep in the conservative south of 1970s Atlanta, Mike Thebus, the son of Greek immigrants, was a man driven by endless ambition. He had everything a wife and five kids, the largest mansion in Atlanta, and a rumored 100 million dollar fortune. But the success came at a price as the community shunned him and he became entangled in a web of murder, mob connections and love affairs.

[00:15:36]

It is the money, obviously, that attracts organized crime.

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I don't have any knowledge as to what happened to Mr. Hanna. He was a personal friend of mine, and I just think it's a terrible tragedy.

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There's no doubt in my mind that they are nervous at first about having to do business with Mike Davis society.

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Do not take it seriously when criminals kill each other. So Mike Thebus walked out this door to freedom. Some are speculating he may be in Colombia or Costa Rica, countries which before have harbored United States criminals.

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This is Gangster House, the unbelievable story of Mike Thebus family man and the so-called sultan of smut.

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Listen and subscribe to Gangster House right now on Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:16:29]

In March of twenty nineteen, I stepped foot for the first time into a little farm town called Winder, a town full of stories, legends and secrets, and it would change my life. What I unearthed was a story shrouded in scandal and mystery, 50 years in the making, a story with secrets never before revealed. But as I would learn, the deeper you dig, the more secrets you're likely to find buried. Listen and subscribe to in the red clay right now on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Big bust took place in neighborhoods across the front range. Officials say they found large scale black market marijuana grow operations in more than 40 homes. Dozens of people are under arrest right now.

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And May 20, 19, coordinated police raids in Colorado once again made headlines around the country.

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Except this time in total, the investigation has resulted in the seizure of over 80 thousand marijuana plants and over two tons of finished marijuana product. We cannot put the genie back into the bottle. Can't do it. This operation has not destroyed the black market. It has only dented the marijuana bust.

[00:17:54]

Surpassed the syndicates is the largest in Colorado history. So WAPs looks like that victory lap after Operation Golden Gopher may have been a bit premature. Turns out Colorado's black market woes did not end with the syndicate.

[00:18:10]

The organization at the center of this more recent takedown was not nearly as sophisticated. It did not hide in plain sight using warehouses or engage in elaborate money laundering tactics. But it underscored a new threat.

[00:18:23]

Whereas the syndicate had been homegrown, these operatives were foreign nationals, in this case from China, who came to Colorado to set up their trafficking ring.

[00:18:33]

They weren't the first foreigners to do so either. In recent years, another international crime group rented luxury homes in Colorado to set up their illegal marijuana grows.

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You could call this Wisteria Lane meets Scarface. Colorado authorities say Cuban nationals with ties to organized crime are moving into posh homes in the quiet suburbs of Colorado and growing massive amounts of weed illegally.

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Nationwide, demand for foreign grown weed is dropping. Pot seizures at our country's borders have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2012. But seeing as how foreign nationals are now coming into the US to set up shop, there's clearly still a profit to be made in the black market. That's forced prosecutors to admit certain facts about takedowns, like Operation Golden Gopher prosecutors like the assistant attorney general of Colorado, Rob Shapiro.

[00:19:27]

These large, successful prosecutions have yet to deter other people. Why? I think the argument is money.

[00:19:36]

Shapiro includes the syndicate in that category.

[00:19:39]

As long as there is a profit motive, there are going to be people enticed or encouraged to come to Colorado, whether that be the trade Nguyen's relocating from Minnesota to Colorado.

[00:19:49]

Consequences weren't enough to deter him from taking the risk for the almighty dollar.

[00:19:59]

So if large prosecutions and public shaming don't deter organized crime, how are we to look back on the syndicate and in the long run, who really paid the price?

[00:20:10]

At a minimum, everyone charged in connection with the syndicate went through some period of probation after sentencing meeting with case officers facing travel restrictions. But most plea deals came with at least one felony conviction, which continue to impact people's futures and livelihoods.

[00:20:28]

Today, Packing Cannon has a wife and two kids in Ohio. With his criminal record, he struggles to find any stable work bouncing between small construction jobs. Some days, he loses hope. Others, he thinks things might turn around. But rarely a day goes by when he doesn't look back on his time with the syndicate.

[00:20:49]

I think about it every day, you know, and I think about the missteps. And I think about, you know, as I described before, it's so it's so crazy to the some days you're angry at people angry yourself. To some days you're like kind of happy. You got to know those people because, you know, I know what what we all how we all cared for each other.

[00:21:13]

He even includes Tre in that category, though he doesn't talk to him anymore. Pat finds it hard to reconcile how trees actions affected some people. He brought into the business, like Alicia Rainey, who is now 76 years old, broke and also can't find any real work with her criminal record.

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Pat likewise feels for his friend Tom Disconnect that I'm stuck with the restitution order a hefty fine. The first time slapped me for one hundred and fifty two years and two points million and I am now trying to work it down to something else they did.

[00:21:50]

It's now down to around eight hundred thousand dollars, an amount he has to pay instalments on every month. Some months. Tom says he has to sell antiques and family heirlooms on Craigslist like those old whiskey bottles that his grandfather bootlegged to make the payments.

[00:22:06]

When you're shackled by some but, you know, never ending payments, you start to lose hope. And I. I get that bad. Hey, you know, I yeah, I know my guilt. Boy, do I feel it. And I really sunk myself into something. And boy, is there, you know, much bigger fish here and there.

[00:22:28]

To be fair, Tom is a big fish at least when it comes to the syndicate. But there was one bigger fish. While everyone under tree took punishment, the state fully intended to come down on him the hardest. Remember, in twenty seventeen, a judge sentenced him to 11 years in prison. But one afternoon that same year, Adam Tilley was in Cherry Creek and did a double take.

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When he spotted Tre walking by, I was blown away to see him walking the streets as early as it was, you know, thinking, being the kingpin of this operation. Tili went right up to tree.

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He had to know how was he out of prison already, a tree came right out and told Tilly that he had spent almost double what they had initially caught him with to keep himself from going to jail for an extended period of time till he had read the grand jury indictment just like anyone else.

[00:23:29]

So he knew that the cops found seven hundred fifty thousand dollars in tree and Christine's apartment taking trees were literally it mean he had paid his lawyer one point five million dollars. As I found out through court documents, Trees lawyer negotiated something called a reconsideration hearing 90 days into his 11 year prison sentence. And at that reconsideration hearing, Tree's attorney argued that his client had exhibited stellar behavior behind bars, was not a threat to society, and had a family depending on him, to provide.

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The judge sympathetic to reuniting Tre with his children, suspended the whole rest of his sentence. So there you have it. The kingpin walks free.

[00:24:16]

And if you think Terri would have to find a new line of work outside of the cannabis industry, you'd be wrong. Since 1993, thousands of women have been murdered or disappeared along the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. My name is Lydia Cacho and I am here to tell you the true story of the femicide. Sing Juarez, listen and subscribe to the red note right now on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts, you can also listen in Spanish.

[00:24:53]

Just search for Lanata Aroha in the same podcast app you are listening in now. Between the years of 1967 and 1972, over 300 commercial airplanes were hijacked worldwide, this period would become known as the golden age of hijacking.

[00:25:17]

The new podcast, American Skyjacker is the tale of a small time crook named Martin Mack McNally, who dreamed up the ultimate mile high score. But Mac's hijacking is just the beginning of an incredibly wild, true crime saga. Listen and subscribe to American Skyjacker on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. In twenty nineteen, Tre opened a hemp company, Tree Root Distillery, extracts chemical compounds from hemp plants grown on industrial farms while related to pot.

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There are different laws governing hemp and marijuana.

[00:26:00]

Hemp doesn't get you high in one of its main compounds. CBD has shown medical promise and is the fastest growing sector of the larger cannabis industry.

[00:26:10]

CBD, CBD, CBD sprouting up everywhere and in every single CBD infused lattes, beauty products, baked goods, even dog treats many CBD purveyors by book extracts from distilleries.

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So that next pump of CBD oil, you add your coffee for five dollars.

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Maybe it came from Trees Distillery. I wanted to know more about the new business, but Tree never did talk to me, nor does he talk to his closest former friends, Cohon, Pat and Tom. The syndicate ruined their relationships, but after everything, an expensive multiagency investigation that spanned from Cowboys' confession to a grand jury indictment lasted far longer than Terry sat behind bars. I'm not breaking any news pointing out how money plays an outsized role in our criminal justice system or that hiring well-connected attorneys tends to produce better outcomes.

[00:27:07]

Five years after taking down the syndicate, I wondered if law enforcement is as pleased with the results of the case as they were initially Assistant AG Shapiro answered by way of comparison, we're better situated today than we were in 2015.

[00:27:22]

We have enhanced our approach to these cases.

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We've taken fresh eyes and we're focusing more on the leaders of these enterprises and making sure that the leaders of the enterprises are held appropriately accountable, which are the lessons learned from Golden Gopher.

[00:27:38]

He says his office is doing a better job focusing prosecutions on the trees of organized crime groups rather than the Raney's.

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His answer suggests he's not exactly satisfied with the way things turned out for the syndicates leader.

[00:27:52]

Still, the prosecutor did tip his hat to tree ever so slightly if he put his mind to something lawful and productive, people like Tree could actually be positive contributors to society.

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After all, tree made for a smart adversary, he'd spotted the caregiving loophole glaring at him on Colorado's law books and seized upon the opportunity. He almost went legal and probably would have given more time and in executing his vision, tree made a lot of mistakes. Sure, but there's no question he was a master marijuana grower, one of the most accomplished in Colorado.

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So how might his story have played out differently?

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Well, maybe if we stripped away the incentive he had to take shortcuts, maybe if we eliminated the black market for marijuana. As Brian Vicente, the lawyer behind Colorado's recreational pot law, told me, nationwide legalization is a crucial step going forward.

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After all, if marijuana were legal in all 50 states, that would remove the arbitrage incentive.

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But when you have states that don't have a regulated market yet, there's going to be an incentive for people to bring marijuana to those to those markets.

[00:29:07]

We kind of have this weird schizophrenia going on in our country.

[00:29:11]

The schizophrenia of the sentence mentions fuels the black market and can be seen in the stats. A frequently cited study from 2016 found that between the United States and Canada, the black market accounted for 87 percent of all pot sales.

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I mean, there's just a strong argument that the federal government needs to catch up with what states are doing, if nothing else, just to end the confusion around this. And then they'll be a lot less, if any, you know, black market.

[00:29:38]

I think let's reiterate a fundamental truth. Weed is here to stay. We already know that most of America wants a legal pot. And now that it's happening on the state level, scientists and doctors are learning more about cannabis, has chemical properties and medical benefits every day.

[00:29:57]

But it goes beyond that because if we don't legalize it, the syndicates of the world are going to continue profiting in a black market filled with threats, violence, tax dodging in an absence of environmental regulations. If we don't legalize it, we're going to continue funding expensive investigations that put people in jail who tend to disproportionately be people of color and low level members of groups like the syndicate. We stick criminal records upon those defendants and prevent them from getting jobs, all in pursuit of a mirage cooked up in an outdated war on drugs.

[00:30:33]

If legalizing pot nationwide prevents that, it's time. At the beginning of the series, I asked why we should care about it. Pot bust. This story shows us that until we focus on solving the larger issues around marijuana, we're going to continue playing whack a mole with organizations like the Syndicate. We have so many bigger problems to tackle in our society than we'd including much more menacing drugs.

[00:31:00]

So long as we continue going after the syndicates in society without addressing the legal system, that makes them possible. We're just repeating history on an endless loop. We're failing to see the forest for the trees.

[00:31:17]

Oh, wait, there's one last person in our story that you're probably wondering about in January of 2015, I checked myself into rehab.

[00:31:31]

It was you know, it was kind of an ultimatum, had been talking about going into rehab before I knew I had a problem, but I was just so busy doing all this other stuff. I just like I can't just disappear.

[00:31:43]

For 30 days, Joe Johnson avoided any jail time by working with law enforcement as a confidential informant. But he says that it took him a while to land on his feet besides going to rehab to get clean.

[00:31:55]

I gave the two businesses to my ex-girlfriend, so I stepped away while dealing with all of this stuff.

[00:32:02]

Joe trusted the ex-girlfriend to take care of his jump zones in Minneapolis and Houston while he was in rehab and working with authorities as an informant. She cut him out of the businesses, but Joe says that he doesn't blame her.

[00:32:16]

The only thing I regret is losing the three kids.

[00:32:18]

You know, his stepson's no longer talk to him. Joe says it's been a frustrating five years. Looking back, he believes that the DEA misused him.

[00:32:28]

The Minneapolis D.A. never really got to follow up on any of any of these.

[00:32:35]

Distribution again is crazy, Tom.

[00:32:39]

They never got the college professor. They never got the businessman. They never got you know, he never got any of these guys. You know, they got CP, that was it. But his network in Minneapolis is huge.

[00:32:51]

Joe maintains that the DEA undercut his usefulness when it made him go to Minnesota without the pot and money Kansas authorities confiscated from him.

[00:33:00]

Had they had the DEA handled it differently and let that back out, they would have wrapped up the whole fucking network, you know, because nobody would have been nobody would have been suspicious.

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You know, still, Joe has few regrets about working as an informant.

[00:33:19]

People can say they hate me for talking to the police, but everybody did. You know, in the end this was going to be the people I was going to throw away. And maybe I regret that a little bit because I did become friends with them, you know, and I was welcomed into that family. But again, we were all adults knowing what we were doing was wrong and knowing that it's that it's never going to last forever. It never, ever lasts forever.

[00:33:48]

Eventually, Joe found his momentum.

[00:33:50]

In twenty eighteen, he bought a jump zone in Texas called Skydive Lone Star, the place where I went skydiving with him in twenty nineteen. It's a significant turn of events when you think about it.

[00:34:02]

Before meeting Joe, I had wondered where he got the money to buy a new business complete with an airplane. Didn't working with the feds mean he'd have to give over all the spoils from his drug running? Well, yes, but incredibly, Joe told me that while he was working as an informant to bring down the syndicate, he was still smuggling pot for other groups. At the same time, I was still playing both sides. This whole time I.

[00:34:29]

I reinvented my organization out of out of California. No, I was taking trips to California while I was working for the DEA. Some crazy. Yeah, that's definitely sounds like you're playing fast and loose. I don't know about fast and loose very fast, but more calculated this time because he didn't have any names. He didn't have any they didn't have anything.

[00:34:55]

I could prove it.

[00:34:59]

You got to hand it to him. The guy has balls and at least up until this episode airs, the plan worked. Joe Snitching on the Syndicate diverted the DEA s attention away from the other groups. He continued smuggling for granted. Those groups weren't thrilled when news of Operation Golden Gopher came out.

[00:35:17]

I got a lot of shit from the people that I protected at first. You know, I'm like, you know, you're still a free man, you know? So I wouldn't complain too much.

[00:35:29]

I'm still not sure why Joe admitted this, considering he definitely violated his agreement with the DEA. But at least in my interview, Joe suggested his pot smuggling days are squarely behind him. I did more insane things in that two year time period than most people will do in their entire life. You know, every time I tell this story to somebody, it's like that you should write a book or that should be a movie.

[00:36:00]

And just like any good book or movie, Joe had one more revelation up his sleeve. I had already heard hints about hidden money in some of the interrogation tapes.

[00:36:09]

You know, I just know that, you know what he told me that if anything ever happened, that there would be money there. Yes, he said it's hidden. I mean, what he said is just sort that they'll never find it. He didn't describe where his head was buried or not. You just said that they got a lot of land and a house or two on the land. And one of them was like a really old home.

[00:36:33]

The he in this case is tree. And the money being discussed is different than the bags of cash with GPS trackers on them. In the Rockies, Tree told at least one associate he'd hidden millions on Christine's parents ranch and Red Wing, Minnesota.

[00:36:48]

I had asked DEA agent Randy Ladd about that.

[00:36:51]

We had heard about those stories of money. And obviously they're not going to say, oh, you know, here's where it is buried on this ranch. But as far as money buried up on this ranch in Minnesota, we did have people go up there and look around. But again, you know, nobody's telling us where it is. I also asked Joe if he knew anything about that stash. Instead, he started talking about another cache of hidden money.

[00:37:24]

I made sure to ask him about it again when I saw him in Texas about how somewhere out there on the plains, he had buried a case, maybe a pelican case with a thousand dollars.

[00:37:38]

I mean, maybe somewhere I would say closer to five hundred, you know, but I don't really know the number because that was a crazy night. Still belowground, allegedly, allegedly still below ground.

[00:37:54]

If that was to be true, it would still be below ground. And of course, I had to know, is his the only one out there? I can guarantee you, I'm sure he has a pelican case to this is probably a little bit bigger. Yeah.

[00:38:23]

This has been season one of the syndicate.

[00:38:26]

If you enjoyed the show, I have some good news. We'll be releasing a couple more bonus episodes with interview outtakes in additional details about this story. We'll get those into your feed soon. In the meantime, if you loved coming along for this journey, show some support by leaving us a review.

[00:38:44]

Wherever you get your podcasts, it really helps more people find out about our show. You can also visit the syndicate podcast Dotcom for more behind the scenes details about the series. The Syndicate is a co-production of Imperative Entertainment and Fox to link. Executive producer is Jason Hoak, produced and edited by Laura Krantz and Scott Carney. The syndicate is scored and mixed by Louis Weekes.

[00:39:09]

I'm your host and creator Chris Walker. This podcast was made possible in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Of course, it takes more than a small team to put together a show like this. And so I want to acknowledge the generosity of a few other people, including Lawrence Pacheco at the Colorado Department of Law, for putting up with all my records requests, Patricia Calhoun at Westword for understanding why I waited years to report this story. Tim Wieland at CBS four for sending their archival tape.

[00:39:43]

Joe Johnson for taking me on one of the most thrilling rides of my life, Tom Dispended, for being a great host and making a mean Spatt coffee packing cannon for allowing me to come out to Ohio and trusting me with his story. And of course, every other voice you heard in this podcast, their perspectives were all essential and providing a 360 degree view of a complicated story, a story in which I think we can all see a piece of ourselves.

[00:40:11]

And finally, a big shout out to you, the listeners. Thanks for following us on season one of the syndicated. From the Westwood One podcast network.