WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) - Prosecutors say a scheme preyed on people desperate to stay in their homes. Now five suspects are charged with offering to help, but only if those people grow marijuana in their homes.
Several of the suspects were in court on Thursday.
It was described as an act of desperation -- a Westminster home was going into foreclosure. But Jeremy Ridens said he was offered a way out. He simply had to grow a lot of marijuana.
Matt Perrenoud was the man, Ridens claimed, who was making the offer. The deal outlined in court documents.
"All monies paid toward removing the home from foreclosure and the set-up of the grow operation would be paid back," a court document said.
Perrenoud was arrested after a 2-year-long investigation. It began when an unnamed neighbor got suspicious and contacted police.
"There were quite a few people out here I've never seen before," neighbor Sherwood Peterson said.
Peterson lives right next door. CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger told him about how Ridens tried to save his house from foreclosure.
"That's one way, I guess, to beat the bad economy, but that's not what I would think of choosing as a career," Peterson said.
None of the neighbors were pleased to find a marijuana grow house in a neighborhood filled with families.
"I think having it in a house with children around is just not right," neighbor Fred Lohr said.
In fact there were children living right in Stephen Dabney's house on Oakwood in Westminster where agents say marijuana was being grown.
Dabney told drug agents he was out of work and he and his wife had several children to support, so he grew more than 30 pounds of pot in return for help on the rent, electricity and groceries.
Grow houses are appearing in more and more neighborhood homes as a means of providing of cover. With 124,000 people now on the state medical marijuana registry, the demand for pot is growing as home values are falling.
"I suppose for some it's a very desperate act," Sgt. Jim Gerhardt with the North Metro Drug Task Force said. "People are looking at a financial collapse and then they're seeing how much money there is to be made in marijuana."
Perrenoud told investigators he had a medical marijuana card and was providing some of his grow to a dispensary in Denver.
But a former owner, Zac Maas, now an employee at the dispensary, told Sallinger Perrenoud is no longer working with them and they had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.
"It's a bad deal," Maas said. "We don't condone any of that. We do everything by the book here."
The dispensary was not charged. Perrenoud and the two others are charged with racketeering.
An informant said the money from the operation was buried in South Dakota. One grower claims Perrenoud threatened to kill him and his family.
Stephen and Carla Dabney also face charges of child abuse for having the children in a grow house.
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