Drug enforcement agents in Oregon state concluded a two-year investigation on June 14 after conducting six simultaneous raids that resulted in five arrests and the impoundment of multiple illegal marijuana grow sites — effectively dismantling an international drug operation tied to two Chinese cartels.
The agents said that the proceeds from the cannabis sites were being laundered through Chinese restaurants and other cash-dominant businesses, adding that the cartels were using guns and intimidation tactics to coerce people into working with them.
According to the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE), cannabis plants grown at 20 locations across these sites in central Oregon were allegedly sent to Portland for nationwide distribution.
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The bust took place under the cooperation of several intelligence agencies, including the Central Oregon Emergency Response (CERT), Deschutes County SWAT teams, as well as support aircraft and other law enforcement agencies. An initial report from local News Channel 21 said the arrests were made in the city of Madras located in Jefferson County.
CODE Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp told The Epoch Times that the operation was extensive and had “all the hallmarks of a cartel operation,” adding that the arrests would likely be “the largest bust in Jefferson County history.”
‘Guns. Intimidation. International money laundering.’
In addition to the arrests and money laundering operations, law enforcement also “discovered technology linked to the Chinese government,” Vander Kamp said, adding that the “operation had processing equipment that came from the Chinese government,” which included a vape pen cartridge filling station with a Chinese government tax stamp on it.
“That means at some point the equipment had to go through the government for exports,” he told The Epoch Times.
The operation’s leaders would also hire unskilled laborers, mainly from Mexico and Honduras, and offer them “legal jobs” making thousands of dollars every month to “work on a farm.” Many Chinese immigrants coming to the U.S. with hopes of finding work in restaurants were also dragged into the drug ring, Vander Kamp added.
After arriving in the U.S. via California or Texas, the laborers would then be taken to the grow farms and trained on the job. At the time of the arrests, many of them were found still living at these sites and were often moved by the cartel.
Ten laborers were detained, identified, interviewed, and later released by detectives, Vander Kamp said, adding that they will not be charged as they are “classified as witnesses.”
“We have provided them with resources and put them in touch with the Chinese consulate,” he added.
Proceeds from the marijuana sales were “laundered through Chinese restaurants and other businesses operating in Oregon before being sent back to China disguised as international business transactions,” Vander Kamp said.
“We followed money from Madras, Oregon, to Hong Kong.”
‘Extremely complex and dangerous investigations’
Ex-Jefferson County Sheriff Marc Heckathorn told reporters during a press briefing on June 14 that an investigation was still ongoing, and that detectives were “processing and collecting evidence after the properties were cleared.”
Heckathorn, who resigned from his position effective June 20, expressed his gratitude to “all the agencies who sent us personnel and resources from across the state to assist us and to the community as a whole for their patience in waiting for us to properly develop the case.”
“Organized drug trafficking cases are extremely complex and dangerous investigations,” he said.
The amount of cash and marijuana seized in the operation has yet to be disclosed as the IRS is still processing and investigating the funds. It is also unclear whether the Chinese regime is aware of the bust and scale of the cartel’s operations in Oregon and across the Pacific northwest.