Two former federal employees responsible for sprawling multi-state drug operation, state indictment says

Two federal employees, including one at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, were responsible for leading a large-scale marijuana manufacturing and distribution operation that stretched from southern Colorado to Miami, a state indictment alleges.

In all, 23 people are believed to be involved in the operation, which was led by a couple in Fremont County.

According to the indictment, the couple, Onel Vicente Martinez and Martha Vicente Romero, recruited almost two dozen other people to make and distribute hundreds of pounds of illegal marijuana.  Romero worked at the Bureau of Prisons and another ringleader in the operation, Mario Armando Leyva Hernandez, worked at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

They reportedly grew and processed the marijuana in Fremont, Pueblo and El Paso counties and then transported it out of state, bypassing tax requirements, the indictment said. Law enforcement said in the bust, officers confiscated 150 illegal plants, 869 pounds of marijuana, 13 guns and some methamphetamine.

“While Colorado has legalized marijuana, it is not legal for illicit marijuana operators to cultivate marijuana without a license with the intent of exporting it to states where the drug remains illegal and lucrative for criminals,” said Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Schaefer, in a statement.

Authorities have arrested nine of the 23 people so far and are looking for others. Officers from southern Colorado worked with federal drug agents and law enforcement in Florida to conduct the investigation, a CBI spokesman said.