By Ivan Raconteur
Planes were allegedly used to fly pot from Colorado to Minnesota
WINSTED, MN Joe Johnson, 43, owner of Westside Skydivers in Winsted, is among 32 people indicted by a Colorado grand jury in what Colorado’s attorney general described as the state’s largest marijuana bust since it was legalized in 2000.
The defendants are charged with 52 felony counts, including racketeering, felony cultivation and distribution of marijuana, money laundering, tax evasion, attempt to influence a public servant, and conspiracy.
Johnson, and his companies, West Side Skydivers LLC (Winsted) and West Side Skydivers Houston LLC are named as defendants in the indictment.
The case involves an organization that allegedly grew marijuana in Denver warehouses, and shipped as much as 400 pounds per month out of state mostly to Minnesota.
The indictment alleges the organization made $12 million over the past four years.
An investigation called “Operation Golden Go-fer” led to the indictments.
Authorities raided multiple warehouses in Colorado last October. According to the indictment, the growing operations were not licensed by the state.
The alleged drug trafficking organization (DTO) initially used cars to ship the marijuana from Colorado to other states.
According to the indictment, Johnson used airplanes from his two skydiving businesses to deliver marijuana and proceeds from illegal marijuana distribution on behalf of the DTO.
The indictment alleges that Johnson conducted the first of nearly 10 trips using his skydiving companies sometime about late October or early November 2013.
On that first trip, Johnson allegedly picked up 100 pounds of marijuana split among four duffel bags and flew it to Winsted.
He then allegedly picked up $460,000 and flew it to Colorado, where he received $25,000 as payment for transporting the marijuana.
According to the indictment, Johnson and his two skydiving businesses transported more than 1,500 pounds of marijuana and more than $2 million in cash between Minnesota and Colorado from October 2013 through June 2014.
Despite access to air transportation, the DTO never stopped transporting marijuana by car.
Through the use of his two companies’ aircraft and, on occasion, automobiles owned or rented by Johnson, he was able to discreetly deliver marijuana to Minnesota and return proceeds of previous marijuana sales in Minnesota to Colorado.
The Kansas State Patrol apprehended Johnson driving from Houston to Colorado in June 2014.
Law enforcement officers seized 66 pounds of the DTO’s Colorado-grown marijuana and $330,000 in cash, according to the indictment.
Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) obtained a confession from Johnson about his personal participation in the activities of the enterprises, including, but not limited to, drug trafficking and money laundering, according to the indictment.
Investigators learned that Johnson had used his skydiving operation to distribute 33 of the 100 pounds of marijuana on that trip in Houston. The trip had allegedly been planned to expand the DTO’s reach into new markets. However, the potential new customers in Houston found the marijuana to be of such poor quality that they accepted only about one-third of the shipment, and rejected future deals.
On June 24, 2014, Johnson had a meeting with another member of the alleged DTO in the Minneapolis area to discuss the seizure of the marijuana in Kansas.. That meeting was photographed by investigators.
During July 2014, law enforcement approached Johnson to further interview him about the DTO’s operations to explore additional avenues of investigation.
During this consensual interview, Johnson discussed quantities of money he had received as payment from the DTO for his “airplane-based illegal drug running go-fer services,” according to the indictment.
When questioned about the location of the nearly $100,000 in cash, Johnson became evasive. Moreover, he attempted to deceive the investigators, and described burying the $100,000. He later confessed to having spent the money to pay bills and prop up his skydiving business, according to the indictment.
Reaction in Winsted
Winsted City Administrator Clay Wilfahrt stated the Winsted Police Department was not involved in this investigation.
He also stated he is not aware of any local people who are alleged to have been involved in this operation, other than Johnson.
Wilfahrt stated Winsted’s city attorney is reviewing the city’s agreement with Westside Skydiving to determine the appropriate action to take.