Former deputy indicted in huge marijuana trafficking case

 

A former Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy who left the department a few years ago to join the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division faces charges for allegedly having a role in a massive trafficking ring that police say distributed and sold cannabis in other states.

 

In a case that has drawn national attention, including a mention by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as debate swirls over legal marijuana, Renee Rayton left her state compliance position for a job offer from cannabis entrepreneur Scott Pack, who paid her $8,000 a month. She is charged with conspiracy to cultivate over 30 marijuana plants, a felony, and violating the state licensing authority. Efforts to reach Rayton were not successful, but her attorney has told The Associated Press that she is innocent.

 

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office began investigating Michael Stonehouse, the alleged ringleader, and Pack a year ago, an inquiry that eventually involved local, state and federal authorities. According to reports by the Associated Press and The Denver Post that cite the indictments, Rayton is accused of using her insider knowledge of the state’s complicated cannabis regulations to help raise plants for Pack’s companies for illegal out-of-state distribution and sale.

 

A grand jury initially indicted 16 people in March, and Rayton wasn’t arrested until June.

 

The Post, citing her indictment, wrote that “during her involvement with Pack and his Harmony & Green businesses, Rayton also told a source that she was aware of compliance breaches and said ‘that she knew [Colorado Department of Revenue] employees who would help the [drug-trafficking organization] ‘get legal,’” according to the indictment. She was released from jail after posting a $5,000 bond.

 

Rayton, also a former Aspen police officer, worked for the sheriff’s office from 2002 to 2014. Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said Wednesday that he’s been following her case, which he said surprised him. Rayton was excited to take the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division job because it would allow her to return to Denver, where she was raised, he said.

 

“She’s a Denver girl so I think she was looking forward” to going back to the Front Range and joining a new type of law enforcement, DiSalvo said.

 

Rayton quit her state job and then allegedly failed to abide by a state regulation mandating that former employees wait six months — a so-called “cooling-off” period — before they can work in jobs over which they once had oversight.

 

After the first arrests, DiSalvo said Rayton quit the cannabis industry and began selling vehicles at a Denver Mercedes-Benz dealership.

 

“And then they arrested her,” he said. “She didn’t know she was going to get caught in the web.”

 

DiSalvo said he offered her a couple of suggestions for attorneys but has no knowledge of her case.

 

“I don’t really know what her role could have been,” he said. “I think it’s hard to say, ‘I knew nothing.’ … The easy money could have been blinding.”

 

The Denver Post, in an editorial, agreed, saying her indictment ought to come as an “enormous wake-up call” for the state’s marijuana industry. It notes that she was hired for $8,000 a month for six months as a “compliance consultant.”

 

“We add the air quotes because the work Rayton was being asked to do hardly had to do with compliance, and it strains credulity to believe that someone in Rayton’s position was fooled,” the editorial says, noting that she is charged with “using her extensive field experience as a regulator to aid illegal marijuana grows. From there, Harmony & Green, a shell company, bought legal pot cultivation licenses and tricked investors into helping finance the scheme. But Harmony & Green was never in the legal marijuana business. Instead, the grand jury found, it shipped Colorado cannabis worth millions of dollars to several states illegally. …

 

“Investigators assert that, given Rayton’s vast regulatory field experience, which included warehouse monitoring and inspection, she must have been aware of the duplicitous practices that were lining her pockets.”

 

The Post reported that Stonehouse allegedly told a confidential informant that he was able to get $3,500 for a pound of cannabis outside Colorado that would bring between $1,500 and $2,000 on Colorado’s legal market.

 

Police raided Stonehouse’s Front Range farm on Sept. 26 and seized an estimated $5 million worth of marijuana; 62 people so far have been indicted.

 

Sessions, in a letter in May — before Rayton’s arrest — to members of Congress about marijuana enforcement, cited The Post’s coverage of the Stonehouse case. He wrote that the alleged ringleader held an active Colorado license to operate a medical-marijuana business “that also shipped marijuana out of state.”

chad@aspendailynews.com