273 pounds of heroin seized in region’s most complex bust ever

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DENVER -- Fifteen search warrants served on suspected heroin traffickers last Thursday concludes what authorities say is the largest and most complex heroin bust in the history of the Rocky Mountain region. They seized 273 pounds of heroin worth $40 million on the street.

It was called "Operation Chump Change." It was a two year-long joint investigation involving the Drug Enforcement Administration Denver Strike Force, IRS Criminal Investigations, Office of the Colorado Attorney General and local law enforcement agencies.

“Let’s not understand by the way the pain suffering and even death that heroin trafficking in Colorado is causing,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said Wednesday.

In the past five years an estimated 500 Coloradans have died from heroin overdoses. It's a drug, authorities say, that is strangling communities at epidemic proportions.

And it's a number state leaders hope declines after the largest heroin bust ever in the Rocky Mountain region.

“By bringing these federal and financial charges, we aim to strangle this drug trafficking organization by depriving it of the oxygen that it needs to survive: Money,” Walsh said.

Concluding the two-year investigation that spanned from the opium poppy fields and heroin labs in Mexico to the distribution cells in Colorado, “Operation Chump Change" also netted 31 pounds of meth, 25 pounds of cocaine, 25 cars, and $2.3 million cash.

“We did make a seizure of over 50 pounds of heroin in one single day and that is a significant amount of heroin for the population size of the front range of Colorado,” said Kevin Merrill, Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the Denver DEA Field Division.

The bust also led to the indictment of 54 people including the main facilitator right here in Denver, a female, and father-son drug kingpins in Mexico. They remain at large.

“They are in Mexico but they cannot hide there,” said Walsh.

“This is just the beginning for us. So if you’re out there doing it, if you’re still part of that organization, it would be prudent to probably stop because we’re not going to,” added Rob Saccone, DEA Denver Strike Force Supervisor.