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Police Using Social Media For Marijuana Stings, Some Call It Entrapment

By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) - CBS4 has learned Denver police are posing as pot growers on Facebook. They are conducting sting operations and have landed at least one deal worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The Internet social media websites have become a high-tech marketplace for drugs. On Instagram one post reads, "Place your order today, gets shipped out before 8 a.m."

Social Media Pot Sting
(credit: CBS)

It was Facebook where Denver police say 26-year-old Sean Edelson responded to a picture placed by them in a well-planned sting. It was a photo of a marijuana grow with the words, "Getting close to peak!! Taking orders now!!"

The reply, police claim, from Edelson was, 'I'm the type of person that will take everything, every time."

A meeting was then arranged at a Denver restaurant. Court documents allege $64,000 in cash was shown by Edelson to an officer as payment for 36 pounds of pot. Edelson was promptly arrested.

Social Media Pot Sting
(credit: CBS)

CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger approached Edelson in a courthouse hallway.

"We're doing a story on marijuana dealing on Facebook," Sallinger asked.

"Sorry," Edelson replied, and then covered the camera lens with a sheet of paper.

Sean Edelson
Sean Edelson (credit: CBS)

He now faces charges in a case which highlights how law enforcement is using social media to crack down on e-commerce in drugs.

Gordon Coombes is a former Larimer County Sheriff's Office drug investigator who would go undercover on the Internet to bust drug dealers.

"If they wanted to know who I was they could search social media that would confirm my character," Coombes told CBS4.

Gordon Coombes
Former Larimer County Sheriff's Office drug investigator Gordon Coombes (credit: CBS)

On Craigslist CBS4 has shown there are plenty of ads for marijuana sales on the black market. But what those responding to the ads now don't know is if they have been placed by police.

RELATED STORIES: Marijuana Legalization Story Archive

CBS4 obtained Denver Police Department policy documents on reverse drug sting operations. They caution investigators they must have sufficient evidence that will demonstrate the predisposition of the suspects to possess or deal illegal drugs.

Social Media Pot Sting
(credit: CBS)

But former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser says it is difficult for the defendant to prove they have been entrapped.

"Would they be likely to commit this offense even if a police officer didn't pose as an undercover person selling," she said.

Karen Steinhauser
CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Karen Steinhauser (credit: CBS)

In the Edelson's case, his home in Parker was searched after the arrest. Inside, marijuana, cash and hash extraction equipment was found. Police say he told an undercover detective he moved to Colorado from New York because of marijuana. His attorney said there would be no comment as Edelson awaits trial.

CBS4's Rick Sallinger is a Peabody award winning reporter who has been with the station more than two decades doing hard news and investigative reporting. Follow him on Twitter @ricksallinger.

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