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[00:00:00]

This podcast is intended for mature audiences, listener discretion is advised. All right, so we're on record as a little bit after 3:00 and present the rumor ourselves. Michael Maleo, senior assistant attorney general, Special Agent Steve Pratt is sitting to the right of the camera. We got our coffees from downstairs. Let me ask you a quick question and neglected to ask it earlier. What were some of the sketchy things that you saw other than just there's too much money at play here?

[00:00:45]

I mean, that's a big clue.

[00:00:47]

There's too much money. There's what appeared to me to be like a million dollars. I don't know.

[00:00:53]

The recording you're hearing right now is the audio from a videotaped confession. If you could see the footage, you'd be looking at a generic office painted in muted colors. A wall in the background looks straight out of an IKEA catalog, a circular classroom clock, prefab cabinets, a framed stock photo showing fields of sunflowers.

[00:01:15]

It's a bland environment, but that doesn't nearly capture the nervous individual in the foreground who on camera is slightly off center. Andrew Cohen, a former marijuana grower, sits wide eyed as prosecutors and detectives grill him like that's crazy.

[00:01:33]

It just seems like you just all you know, it was crazy to me.

[00:01:36]

He wasn't the only one who was nervous. Law enforcement interrogated just about everyone involved with the syndicate. And now I've got copies of all their interrogations, recordings from 20 suspects. What you'll hear is an unprecedented look into the inner workings of the syndicate. The tapes will help us understand what really happened during its rise and fall. You'll hear snippets of them throughout the series. And, well, it's kind of shocking what people will say once they start ratting on each other.

[00:02:08]

A sense of self-preservation certainly applies to the taped confession of Andrew Cohen. Here's a state prosecutor doubling down on his earlier question.

[00:02:17]

What were some of the sketchy things that you saw? There's a lot of people working for him, like people who like houses. And I would play poker with a lot of these guys. And I know one time is you have an operation going to treat, you know, working for every tree.

[00:02:38]

That's tree. When this is the first time that his name has come up in our series, Bitcoin is referring to a key figure. In fact, he's the key figure.

[00:02:48]

Trewin was the brains behind the entire Colorado operation. Tree hired Joe to fly pot through the skies and tree masterminded a smuggling operation stretching from Colorado to Minnesota. Simply put, the syndicate wouldn't have happened without Trewin. And so detectives had reason to press Cohen for details about him as a college buddy of Tres Cohen didn't just know him well. He had a front row seat to the very beginning of the operation. You see, in 2010, Tre recruited Cohen to join him in Colorado as part of what he claimed was a new legitimate marijuana business Cohen bought in.

[00:03:30]

Except after he moved from Minnesota. He come across signs that trees business might not be so aboveboard. Detectives later asked him about some of these red flags.

[00:03:42]

Did you ever see the body bag of stuff in a duffel bag? Yes. Tre went to the trunk of his car and grabbed a duffel bag, a very rubber, like really thick rubber with a really like, very expensive, waterproof weatherproof bag.

[00:04:01]

And he told me that there was a GPS tracking device in the bag and the bag had money on it and he chucked it over the edge of this well inside. Why, for safekeeping? I would imagine for safekeeping, but where was he when he threw it over the mountainside near the gun range where all the guns were, all the bullet holes, we were really on the side of some dirt road and I never saw that again.

[00:04:31]

That admission of cash hidden somewhere in the Rockies was right there on the recordings. And those duffel bags, they might still be out there. But to understand where all that money came from, the kind you'd stash away to retrieve later, you have to go back to the very first dollars that the syndicate earned in this episode, the early years. We'll hear about how the syndicate set up its operations in Colorado, beginning with Trewin and his very first hire, Andrew Cohen.

[00:05:06]

I'm Chris Walker, your guide in this series about high flying pot smugglers, the rise and fall of a criminal enterprise in the evolution of marijuana's black market in the era of legal weed from Fox Lip-Sync in Imperative Entertainment, this is the syndicate. Last fall, I met Andrew Cohen in Minnesota. Unlike others I talked to, he's actually done pretty well for himself in the five years after the syndicate's collapse. Cohen lives in a big, fancy house in a suburb outside of Minneapolis.

[00:05:44]

He runs a private catering company cooking meals in the homes of millionaires and sports stars.

[00:05:50]

And he's got that hipster chef vibe, a goatee, a proof of stylized hair and lots of tattoos. Full sleeves of Japanese dragons and monsters covered both of his arms and psychedelic designs crawl up his chest and onto his neck. The sheer volume of ink suggests a kind of edginess, but I notice that many of the tats are fading.

[00:06:13]

He got them a while ago, and in fact, he's quick to say he spent a lot of time and energy trying to move beyond his past.

[00:06:21]

I'm in such and such a different person, different place, just a whole different set of circumstances in my life.

[00:06:27]

Still, Cohen wants to set the record straight about what happened in Colorado, as well as provide some perspective on the earliest days of the syndicate, as he puts it. It all stems from his friendship with Tre when the two had been buddies since 1998, when they met in Minneapolis, Terry was in college and Cohen was in culinary school.

[00:06:48]

Outside of their studies, both of them grew and dealt marijuana. Cohen says they were knuckleheads as far as they are concerned. Leading double lives as cannabis outlaws fueled their friendship with a sense of adventure. And besides, it was an exciting time to grow weed.

[00:07:05]

The 90s, the economy was booming. The Internet held such promise. And the grass, I mean, that grass was getting much greener for pot smokers.

[00:07:17]

After being driven underground during the 1980s, pot was coming out into the sunshine.

[00:07:22]

Even the president admitted to lighting up and that when I was in England, I experimented with marijuana at the time.

[00:07:30]

But remember, he didn't inhale and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale and never tried it again and never tried it again.

[00:07:39]

Everywhere you looked, it seemed reefer was entering the mainstream. Dr. Drays 1992 album The Chronic helped introduce a whole generation to Pott's vernacular. Movies such as Dazed and Confused depicted marijuana use is a normal part of adolescence. Of course, as anyone who partook back then knows, the only pot you could easily buy was Dich Weed. You know, Schlag Brick, that Preston earthy stuff which often came from Mexico. It wasn't strong, but if you smoked enough of it, it could still get the job done.

[00:08:14]

Marijuana was just marijuana.

[00:08:17]

Unless that is, you knew a grower or you grew your own.

[00:08:23]

Both Cohen and Tre realized the potential of growing some of the newer, more potent strains making the rounds. This was a time when smokers were becoming much more educated about high quality cannabis. Forget that ditch weed. There were so many other options stemming from two types of plants. You had cannabis indica, the strains that produced a more relaxed body high as well as sativa, more of a mental high energizing but with some risk of paranoia. And that was just the beginning.

[00:08:55]

Different strains of those did different things. To want to weed, to make you giggle, try sour diesel, want to pig out, you're going to love Pineapple Kush.

[00:09:06]

And as the demand for artisanal cannabis increased, Kohnen Tree realized that they could fetch a lot more money than their competitors who were slinging Mexican pot. It wasn't hard to imagine that one day there could be a whole boutique industry for specialized cannabis products. In fact, developments in a different part of the country had already made that clear once a marijuana easy to obtain medical marijuana.

[00:09:31]

A few Bay Area doctors make a business of recommending pot for patients.

[00:09:37]

In 1996, California voters became the first in the nation to legalize medical marijuana.

[00:09:43]

Over on the Left Coast, medical card carriers were already using derivative marijuana products like edibles and oils. Why not take advantage of all the different ways that you could consume pot? Plus, with regulated doses, you could finally know how much weed was in those special brownies. This was the dawn of a cannabis revolution in Cohen and sensed it. They challenged each other over who could grow the best bud, and each perfected his indoor growing sharing techniques on lighting, soil and nutrients.

[00:10:17]

Soon enough, money line their pockets and tree, and Cohen shared some wild years.

[00:10:22]

Together, they celebrated their successes, as you do when you're in your early 20s, going to clubs, blowing money on things like bottle service and VIP tables, Cohen says. It was just a phase. As the years rolled by, they gradually toned down their antics and as they matured their lives took them different directions. Cohen's culinary career demanded more and more attention. Entry, while determined to make it rich, dabbled in a variety of entrepreneurial schemes, not just weed.

[00:10:53]

Both men started families, and with the demands of parenthood, they saw less of each other. Still, as their friendship past a decade, Cohen considered tree close a best friend. Even so, in 2010, when Tree extended an invite to visit Larkspur, Colorado, a rural area south of Denver where he'd recently moved. Cohen accepted it as an opportunity to catch up with his old friend. He wanted to see what tree was up to in Colorado, as well as check out his new place.

[00:11:26]

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.

[00:11:40]

The new podcast, American Skyjacker is the tale of a small time crook named Martin Mack McNally, who dreamed of 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. To women who hoped to evade the ticking clock of time, Dr. Frederick Brandt was the most potent drug dealer in the world and the dealer got high on his own supply.

[00:12:19]

From Imperative Entertainment and the team behind Broken Hearts comes a new series that will challenge everything you know about fame, fortune and the fear of growing old. I'm Justin Harmon and this is the baron of Botox. When he arrived, Cohen was floored by his pals home tree was living in a mansion, it looked like a ski lodge with a sloped roof supported by huge timber beams.

[00:12:51]

The main house had unobstructed views of the Rockies, and beside it was a three thousand eight hundred seventeen square foot detached garage that was itself larger than most homes.

[00:13:03]

The structure was so wide in its roof, so high that you could pull multiple coach buses into it. But that was just the outside the interior of the garage really taken by surprise.

[00:13:15]

You not. I had never seen more weight in my life. I mean, no, no, no. Normal person never had.

[00:13:20]

The sprawling garage had been converted into a state of the art marijuana grow.

[00:13:25]

It was like like what you see in like the high tide here is like, whoa, tree lined the ceiling with sophisticated lighting arrays and huge ventilation fans there.

[00:13:36]

You knew you didn't have to know anything about it to know that it was a very, very expensive and serious endeavor. Cohen figured there had to be a million dollars worth of cannabis plants in the garage.

[00:13:49]

Trees set up, blew away anything the two of them had worked on while growing indoors in Minnesota. And Cohen's first thought was that the investment signaled his friend's success.

[00:13:59]

Before Tree had moved to Colorado, Cohen had heard he was making waves in a different industry, as he told detectives.

[00:14:06]

My understanding of tree was that he owned a lighting company and they did LSD street lights. He had told me that he had done all the streetlights for the city of St. Paul. You got to be a millionaire. So in Cohen's mind, that explained how she had the resources to invest in such a sophisticated setup. He was impressed by his friend's wealth and the factory was making moves in cannabis. Perched on a hill in his mansion, Tree was living a Colorado dream.

[00:14:35]

And by comparison, Cohen's circumstances were drab.

[00:14:40]

He had financial troubles and was working exhaustive hours as a sous chef with a baby on the way. Perhaps he knew this because after he showed Cohen the grow house, he launched right into a business pitch.

[00:14:52]

And then the conversation really went to moving out there to help him start and edibles.

[00:14:59]

So taking your background and cooking and applying it to cannabis. Correct.

[00:15:04]

Tre wondered if his longtime friend could use his kitchen expertise to devise a lineup of edible products, chocolates, candies, oils to infuse in home cooking that would line the shelves of medical marijuana dispensaries.

[00:15:17]

Cohen would own 25 percent of the edibles company.

[00:15:20]

Tree, in turn, would handle all the finances branding as well as provide Cohen with cannabis to experiment with. It was quite an offer.

[00:15:30]

And so I went back and I talked to my girlfriend at the time about the possibility of it and she was open to it. I'm not super open to it, but open enough to it as long as it was aboveboard. You know, that was always her thing. Was this above board?

[00:15:47]

After all, Kohnen Tree had a history with pot. They had cut their teeth in the black market. But Cohen says that he pressed his friend. This was different, right? This was all cool in Colorado.

[00:15:59]

Tree responded that everything he was doing was legal under a provision in Colorado's marijuana laws.

[00:16:05]

As a, quote, caregiver, he was responsible for growing medical marijuana for a number of patients registered with Colorado's marijuana enforcement division. The state knew about all of it, and that was reassuring to Cohen.

[00:16:20]

I mean, I was just green as fuck. I knew that it was legal, that you could, like, smoke pot in Colorado or whatever and eat it. And so I thought it was a really cool opportunity and I was going to make a lot more money.

[00:16:33]

Cohen was clueless about the complex bureaucracy surrounding Colorado's cannabis industry, but he at least knew that Colorado had legalized medical pot in 2000. The industry was already a decade old in the caregiver thing seem legit.

[00:16:48]

Besides, surely Tree wouldn't move his whole family to Colorado to grow illicit marijuana, right?

[00:16:55]

After talking it over with, his girlfriend, Cohen decided to take the leap. He also moved his entire family down from Minnesota and Tre was thrilled and he took me shopping.

[00:17:08]

But like houses like my 50000 year salary could not provide me, like, really nice homes, like beautiful homes, like a dream house for for me to bring my family to. And I thought, holy shit, man. Like, if he's putting the faith in me, then they offer to help me pay for it and everything. Like until you're on your feet, I'll pay for you. I got your back until we get this business going.

[00:17:31]

The house tree rented for Cohen was even larger than his own on a six acre lot in Elizabeth, Colorado, a rural town of 1500 residents about an hour outside of Denver. It was quite the crib with more bedrooms than Cohen knew what to do with an ungodly amount of space.

[00:17:48]

At the time, I didn't think much of. But now I look back and say that may have been a little premeditated in the idea, to be clear with the big houses that it would have space to have that growing inside it.

[00:17:59]

That's now becoming very clear to me. Cohen, since that tree's generosity came with strings attached not long after Cohen moved into the mansion, he estimates that he invested 30 to 40 grand to install a large pot farm in the basement.

[00:18:15]

Already, Trees original business pitch began morphing into something else.

[00:18:20]

I then began growing pot he was teaching me. I did have experience growing marijuana, but I'm no expert by any means. And, you know, I was following his method and he would give me the nutrients. And this is what you do when you do it.

[00:18:38]

So Cohen wasn't just making edibles, he was cultivating pot, too. Even so, Cohen went along with his plan. He figured that the pot grow was probably legal, or at least mostly legal.

[00:18:52]

His landlord didn't know about the basement grow, nor that Cohen was using the house to make cannabis extracts for tree extractions that were extremely dangerous.

[00:19:02]

Not all of them went so smoothly.

[00:19:05]

So what about the explosion? Yes, the explosion have third degree burns covering my whole body and blew up outside.

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Cohen's exaggerating slightly. It's more like a few second degree burns on his back. But as Cohen told detectives, the explosion happened one afternoon as he was trying to make hash oil.

[00:19:24]

I was making in my basement just a very small batch. I still to this day could not tell you how it happened. I had made it many times before in my basement, in the same place the hash oil was so that Cohen could make edibles he needed oil to cook with.

[00:19:39]

So first he dropped out highly concentrated THC, the chemical compound that gets you high from hasher cannabis using a butane extraction method.

[00:19:48]

The process is safe enough in a lab, but Cohen used highly flammable gases in his home with minimal precautions.

[00:19:56]

It could have been a cell phone spark or something, but it just caught on fire and it blew me back. Oh, holy shit, this thing's on fire. And it caught the edge of my shirt on fire. Some of the what happened was I dropped the pan and the hash, which is bubbling up and butane and everything spilled out of the pan and a piece of it caught on my shirt.

[00:20:18]

Cohen panicked. He ripped off his shirt, but already Burns covered his back. He still has the scars silky smooth along his lumbar area. The fire on the floor swept outwards. Cohen managed to smother it before it rushed up the walls. Even so, the blast blew out multiple windows and it dislodged part of a counter swing that great. You know, all this damage. Cohen didn't call nine one one. He didn't want to get in trouble with the homeowner who had likely sue him for breaching his lease.

[00:20:51]

Over the coming weeks, Cohen and his brother in law repaired the house on their own. To this day, Cohen is amazed that no one called the cops or fire department. The explosion echoed like thunder throughout the entire neighborhood. Had anyone showed up to investigate, there would have been some tough questions. And who knows? That may have even led cops to tree way back then, cutting short all the chaos of the coming years. Even though Cohen nearly killed himself playing mad scientist, I had absolutely no moral or ethical issue with any of it.

[00:21:29]

And again, I have all the paperwork I yes, paperwork, the technical ink that separates crooks from entrepreneurs, businessmen from bandits. So let's dig in on this.

[00:21:43]

On numerous occasions, he showed Cohen his growing licenses and they were real. They were signed and sealed from the state of Colorado. But what Cohen didn't know was that tree was in the beginning stages of figuring out how to exploit a loophole in the state's medical marijuana laws. It all goes back to that caregiving law I mentioned earlier. As it turns out, Terri was not playing by the rules. Here's Cohen facing down questions about how they skirted regulations to mention a couple of questions that go back to the whole caregiver model.

[00:22:18]

So you had your couple of patients, right? Yeah. You knew that you only gave them a little bit for free out of your total production. Right. And then the extra the overage, I'll just use that phrase, the overaged would go to tree and which I would get paid for.

[00:22:37]

OK, and did you know at the time that as a caregiver, you can't get paid to grow weed other than cost from your patients at the time at the house? I have no idea.

[00:22:54]

So there's the prosecutors schooling Cohen about how as caregivers, all of his entry's product was supposed to go to their patients. But was that actually happening? And whose job is it to make sure all the caregivers weed is accounted for? The caregiver model in Colorado has always been problematic, and perhaps no one is a better authority on the subject than Brian Vicente.

[00:23:18]

Brian, essentially, I'm an attorney that specializes in cannabis laws and I've been very involved in the evolution of Colorado's marijuana laws.

[00:23:26]

Brian Vicent wrote Colorado's recreational pot law in 2012, but his role in shaping cannabis law also goes back a decade or more to medical marijuana. In fact, he helped define the very caregiver law that the syndicate exploited. And Vicente says, at least in the early years after Colorado legalized medical pot in 2000, it had an important purpose.

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He couldn't find any dispensaries for at least the first seven, eight years. There wasn't a commercial model around medical marijuana originally, so that was a real issue, right.

[00:23:58]

Overnight, voters approved medical marijuana for pot patients, but there were no stores to buy it from. So lawmakers came up with a solution. Caregivers, they'd be the ones to grow weed for individual patients. It'd be like having a personal pharmacist concocting drugs just for you with free delivery. Colorado lawmakers feared some caregivers might sell product out the back door if they could grow unlimited amounts of cannabis.

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Perhaps that was prescient. The state decided to limit caregivers to growing for just five patients each. All of the caregivers pot was supposed to go to those five patients and those five patients only.

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But as the center saw it, if you can only help five people, you can't really run like a business or make money off what you're doing if you're only helping five individuals.

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In fact, the limits effectively stifled Colorado's cannabis industry for the better part of a decade. By 2008, eight years after medical marijuana went legal, only 9000 Coloradans had registered with the state to use medical pot. Vicent had no doubt why the five patient limit?

[00:25:07]

And we also just thought that was arbitrary. I was an early advocate lawyer in the space, so actually I sued the state. This was in 2007 because I basically had a guy who was dying of AIDS.

[00:25:18]

The guy's name was Damien Lagoa, and while he was looking for a caregiver to grow medical pot for him, he couldn't find any providers who weren't already maxed out with five patients.

[00:25:29]

The guy who was dying of AIDS is like, well, what am I supposed to do now? And so he sued the state. And we got in front of a district court judge in Denver. And I'll never forget, it was actually really powerful. We lined the witness stand with every single pill bottle that this individual took every day. And he said, you know, I can't take all these pills unless I have medical marijuana because that allows my stomach to be able to take pills.

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And I don't take these pills. I will die. And I swear to God, the judge had tears in his eyes, and that's when I knew we were going to win that fucking case.

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The whole pot industry in Colorado was about to change.

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The judge ripped into the state at that point, overturned that policy. And that really was like the open door for stores to begin and for caregivers to help five, 10, 20, a thousand thousand people.

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The door opened because the state. Lifted the five patient limit for approved providers, as Vicent mentioned, this also paved the way for Colorado's first storefront dispensaries, which were technically caregivers to only in brick and mortar form. In just two years after the legal case, the number of medical marijuana patients more than quadrupled. In Colorado, caregivers expanded their patient rosters. Dispensaries popped up in major cities like Denver and Fort Collins. Growers scaled up their production. But there was a downside as the number of medical marijuana patients ballooned and the industry shifted towards a dispensary model.

[00:27:00]

It meant far less vetting of individual caregivers and patients. Colorado's marijuana enforcement division simply didn't have the manpower or resources to investigate each individual caregiver across the state, and some caregivers were growing up to 99 plans for each of their patients, an obscene amount of pot for just one person.

[00:27:21]

So while the Santa suit was a win for medical patients who needed weed and couldn't get it before, the lawyer didn't anticipate how someone like Tre would exploit the changing landscape or how.

[00:27:34]

But anyway, so that sort of opened the door and ultimately allowed for the subjects of your podcast to to provide that service to the broader people. Colorado has changed his caregiver rules again and again, they're still in flux. Lawmakers would reimpose some limits, lift them, reimpose them again, in part because of what tree in the syndicate went on to do. That comes later.

[00:28:00]

The main thing to know for now is that in 2010, when Tree was setting up shop, a rapidly expanding pot industry meant the state can always keep an eye on what caregivers were up to.

[00:28:14]

Available now from Imperative Entertainment in Texas Monthly, a new 10 part podcast series called Boomtown about the biggest oil boom in history. Boomtown takes you to a rugged corner of West Texas, where roughnecks and billionaire wildcatters are fueling a boom so big it's reshaping our climate, our economy and our geopolitics. We'll get an inside look at the people cashing in and those whose lives are turned upside down. Find weekly episodes of Boomtown wherever you get your podcasts. Deep in the conservative south of 1970s Atlanta, Mike Thebus, the son of Greek immigrants, was a man driven by endless ambition.

[00:28:55]

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.

[00:29:15]

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

[00:29:19]

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.

[00:29:27]

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

[00:29:34]

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.

[00:29:47]

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

[00:29:57]

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

[00:30:15]

By the fall of 2010, Cohen was beginning to understand that the pot he grew for Tre was well beyond the needs of their patients in both tree's garage grow and in Cohen's basement, they grew twenty four to 99 cannabis plants per patient. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that most plants were producing at least a pound of pot every harvest in. No patient on earth could ever smoke multiple pounds of pot each month. You'd have to be high off your ass 24/7.

[00:30:45]

You'd probably die of smoke inhalation. It just wasn't physically possible to consume that much weed. Meanwhile, Terry said he was distributing all their product to patients, but was making money hand over fist. Remember that scene in blue where Johnny Depp has a closet so full of cash that he doesn't know what to do with it? It was a little bit like that. Cohen had to accept that things weren't exactly aboveboard and his suspicions only heightened when he saw his friends start to engage in some strange behavior, like one day when Terry invited Cohen on a trip to the mountains.

[00:31:22]

He and I and a couple of other people went out there just to shoot guns. There was a there was this remote like it wasn't a gun range. It was just like a bunch of trees mowed down by, like Air 53.

[00:31:33]

They were target shooting on public land. It was super cool.

[00:31:36]

Like we were I was having fun, but I was shooting some guns over off to the side with another buddy. And, yeah, he just walked off with another buddy. And I noticed some things came out of the back of the truck, got lost, and I don't pay much attention to it and get back in the car. Maybe later that day I was like, what was that? And then I was told what it was, which was which was a bag full of cash with a GPS tracking device on that tree.

[00:32:06]

Just checked a bag of cash off a mountainside. Why? Tree never explained what my impression in the moment was. Maybe there was like some heat or something that got himself in some trouble or something and needed a safe place to put it for a while.

[00:32:22]

It seemed like the kind of paranoid move is Stoner might make. I asked Cohen, had this happened other times, too, he didn't know Nourizadeh gone back to see if any duffel bags were still there. For all he knew, there could still be hundreds of thousands in cash sitting in the forest.

[00:32:39]

But hearing him tell the story, you almost get the sense that these guys felt untouchable. The shotguns, the drugs, the money. It plays into those stereotypes. The Wild West archetype man on the fringe of the law. Even Cohen admits that certain parts of it, like shooting off guns in the forest, were fun. But the bag of cash episode also got under his skin.

[00:33:02]

It irked him that he would casually toss around money like that because so I had to borrow some money from him, which in retrospect, I really feel was his plan. I don't think he ever planned on starting a food company with me, but I think it was to get me out here and get me in, at least get me under his thumb. You know, you're broke. You don't know anyone. And and I felt very taken advantage of from that point on.

[00:33:30]

And that that animosity grew.

[00:33:32]

Tree wasn't just paying Cohen's bills and rent. He doled out stipends for groceries, stipends that Cohen says didn't cover his family's weekly expenses. He felt like an indentured servant, just one that lived in a really nice house tree. And Cohen stopped hanging out except to talk business. That's all he seemed to care about, hitting production quotas and bottom lines. Increasingly, they got into arguments over Cohen's debts. The arguments escalated until one day he came in and got real upset and threw some things around.

[00:34:04]

And I got pretty upset at that. And we kind of, you know, got in each other's face a little bit. And there was a guy there who came out who, uh, yeah. Flashed a gun at me. With the message being like, you need to back down. Yep, yeah, that must have been pretty surreal given that this was your friend. Like my best friend when I told I'll never forget, I told you in that moment, get this asshole out of here.

[00:34:34]

Who does he think he is like? You know, this is between me and you do? No. Known this guy for 20 years. The enforcer disappeared. Still the bodyguards message shook Cohen. This went beyond mistrust and money squabbles, threatening someone with a gun, even if it wasn't Tre who allows that to happen to a best friend.

[00:34:54]

Cohen seems to recognize the man he thought he knew the cash, the DIY hash, oil extractions, the massive amounts of pot, the muscle. It was time to acknowledge that tree was not merely a medical marijuana caregiver. Cohen decided he'd had enough for financial reasons and the safety of his family. He was out in early 2011. He announced he was packing up his bags and returning to Minnesota. Newer members of the syndicate were quick to make fun of them.

[00:35:25]

Well, I mean, the people that I heard talk about and call them princess, including. True. Yeah. So the reason for that, I think is is kind of the best way to put it.

[00:35:41]

Cohen says that he heard the nickname, but he didn't care that people called him princess or that tree tolerated it.

[00:35:47]

I really hated TI by the time I left, I was really pissed and I was really hurt and I was really just I felt like I'd been duped and and that I had been put into, quite frankly, a pretty hairy situation that I needed to get myself out of it. And it made me mad. I was mad that I fucking moved my whole family out here, that I never had a two nickels to rub together. I was not happy and I left really pissed off.

[00:36:18]

Cohen hasn't talked to Terry since. He still laments losing a friend. Bitcoin's glad he got out from under his thumb. He'd had his suspicions about the extent of trees operation, but once he was back in Minnesota, there was absolutely no denying it when he met up with an old friend of trees, a guy by the name of Tom Disparate.

[00:36:39]

And I got a call from Tom. Indulge me for coffee, wouldn't never say anything on the phone, lets me for coffee.

[00:36:50]

Cohen didn't know Tom well, but he knew him to be an underground pot grower from his entry's knucklehead days.

[00:36:56]

I always knew Tom to be very out there, tall, skinny, kind of goofy looking guy grill out there.

[00:37:06]

Personality wise. His nickname was Crazy Tom. And fittingly, I think Cohen had an idea about why Crazy Tom might want to meet.

[00:37:19]

He went to his house anyway, and once there, his suspicions were confirmed. Tom said he had a bunch of weed for sale. Did Cohen know any smaller buyers who would take some? Cohen said, yes, but hold on.

[00:37:33]

Didn't he just say that he left Colorado because he didn't want anything to do with the black market? Here's what Cohen told detectives about his, quote, horrible decision to buy pot from Tom again. You guys have to understand, we were fucking fabulous. You know, I was living in my dad's basement. I have a brand new baby. I was looking for a job. We were really, truly penniless.

[00:37:55]

OK, so he claims he was desperate for income.

[00:37:59]

In any case, the more important part of the story is that when Cohen went to Tom's house, he opens up this room in his basement and it's filled to the ceiling with the exact same packages there, the same packages allegedly for patients that he would assemble in Colorado.

[00:38:17]

I mean, it's very distinct. You cannot miss these things. It's the writing, it's the Sharpie.

[00:38:22]

And that's when Cohen says he knew.

[00:38:25]

And, you know, there's a bazillion strains out there. So it would be pretty unlikely for two people to package the same strain of pot in the same way. I just knew. I knew.

[00:38:34]

And so so when you say you knew right away, you knew right away. When you look at this stuff at times, I know you're connected to Trace.

[00:38:41]

Yes. Tom was even selling weed. Cohen grew in his basement in Colorado. Things had come full circle and Cohen was shocked at the amount of pot that Tom had on hand, dozens and dozens of pounds ready for sale on the black market. This wasn't a small time operation Tree had set up a weed pipeline from Colorado to Minnesota. And Cohen, one thing he did know about Tree, the guy was ambitious and the way things were going. He'd soon need more than a garage and a few basements to grow in.

[00:39:13]

But even Cohen didn't anticipate the scale of trees plans that in the coming years he'd be one of the biggest pot producers in the entire state.

[00:39:26]

On the next episode of the syndicate wonderous warehouses of weed, there was probably 18 different rooms, but now we're talking forty six thousand watt lights, 6000 square foot of room to do with it.

[00:39:41]

Three moves away from his grassroots to become a marijuana mogul in his operation goes big time.

[00:39:48]

Almost more corporate than some of the true businesses I've worked at that have been businesses for 20 years.

[00:39:56]

If that big business is illegal, how much do you tell your new employees? It was one of those completely unspoken agreements. You just don't talk about it. You don't know if the other person knows. So I mean the person to bring it up.

[00:40:10]

That's coming up on Episode three of the Syndicate. The syndicate is a co-production of Imp. Entertainment and Fox Inc executive producer is Jason Hoak, produced and edited by Laura Krantz and Scott Carney. The syndicate is scored and mixed by Louis Weekes. I'm your host and creator Chris Walker. This podcast was made possible in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Visit the Syndicate podcast Dotcom for more about this story. And don't forget to tell your friends about the syndicate.

[00:40:45]

If you're enjoying it, please leave us a review. Wherever you get your podcasts, it really helps more people find out about our show.