Authorities: Million dollar pot business busted
Birkett says investigators seized 'thousands of pounds' of marijuana
Local law enforcement officials, conducting a yearlong investigation dubbed "Operation Chicago Haze," have arrested a dozen people alleged to be members of one of the region's largest marijuana-selling rings.
The suspects were charged with crimes that included cannabis trafficking, delivery of cannabis and money laundering, officials said.
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said that the investigation resulted in the confiscation of "thousands of pounds of high-grade marijuana, as well as cash, guns and vehicles."
"We wanted to take down as many players as we could," Birkett said. "It took a lot of cooperation between different agencies to make all these arrests on many levels."
Assistant DuPage County State's Attorney Ken Tatarelis told Judge Liam Brennan on Friday that Drug Enforcement Agency agents, who worked on the case for several months with help from the Illinois attorney general's office and DuPage County authorities, have confiscated almost $1 million in cash that was to be used to buy more marijuana to bring into the area for sale and distribution.
Two of the defendants were arrested recently with "bags full of cash" amounting to $571,000, said Tatarelis. The cash is thought to have been destined for California to pay for the purchase of more marijuana. Two other defendants with $320,000 in cash were in a truck headed for California when they were stopped by Nebraska police.
Tatarelis said another part of the operation came to light after Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested one of the defendants in Canada, and DEA agents overheard one of that defendant's relatives discussing how to dispose of more than 200 pounds of marijuana.
Brennan set most of the bails at $500,000 and higher. He set the highest bail for Dorian Luzaj, who authorities believe is the group's ringleader, at $2.5 million.
Other defendants are Daniel Awkerman, Eric Alcantara, William Giraldo, Sayed Hashemi, Kostantinos Koutelidakis, Lirim Luzaj, Jacek Pelc, Przemyslaw Raczynski, Bujar Toshkezi, Imer Xhaferi and Stephany Ortiz. Brennan was told that the defendants are all from the Chicago area.
By Art Barnum, Tribune Reporter
11:12 p.m. CDT, May 21, 2010