OREGON—Authorities have seized eight tons of marijuana, 17,704 plants, four illegally obtained weapons and a large cache of U.S. currency in an illegal grow operation linked to Chinese cartels.
The June 14 bust “had all the hallmarks of a cartel operation,” the sergeant said. Kent VanderKamp of the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) team told The Epoch Times. ” Fire arms. Intimidation. International money laundering.
“Law enforcement also discovered technology linked to the Chinese government.
“The operation had processing equipment from the Chinese government,” VanderKamp said, including a vape pen cartridge filling station with a Chinese government tax stamp.
“That means at some point the equipment had to go through the government for export,” he explained.
The weapons seized were also significant.
“The AR 15 models were fitted with red dots and military-grade features that we don’t normally see in private guns,” he said.
The bust was the result of a two-year investigation.
Marijuana grown at 20 central Oregon locations was reportedly sent to Portland for nationwide distribution, according to a CODE press release.
Proceeds from marijuana sales were laundered through Chinese restaurants and other businesses operating in Oregon before being returned to China disguised as international business transactions, Sgt. VanderKamp said.
“We followed the money from Madras, Oregon, to Hong Kong,” he added.
The operation would have used Chinese workers who had been brought into the country through the southern border.
One of the organization’s leaders is a Chinese national who is believed to have done much of the overseas work related to labor trafficking.
“The operation used unskilled laborers who came into the country via Texas and California hoping to work in American restaurants,” VanderKamp said.
“The workers held Mexican visas and stayed in Mexico for up to nine months while waiting for favorable conditions to cross,” he continued. “When the chaos started on the southern border, they came.”
Essentially narco-slaves, the workers paid off their debts in China and covered the cost of their illegal immigration.
When they arrived, they were told they would be given jobs on farms that brought in thousands of dollars a month.
“They were trained on the job and told it was legal,” he explained.
Workers were found living at cultivation sites and were often moved by the cartel.
Ten workers were arrested, identified, questioned, then released by detectives.
They will not be charged because they are classified as witnesses.
“We provided them with resources and put them in touch with the Chinese consulate.”
More suspects have been identified and detectives expect more arrests.
Unfortunately, such activities are not unusual in Oregon.
“We have a lot of cartel activity in Oregon, with Chinese and Russians running illegal indoor marijuana grow operations and Mexicans, Hondurans and others specializing in outdoor growing,” VanderKamp said.
This case began with community complaints and advice at several of the organization’s cultivation sites in the area, he said.
The operations diverted or stole significant amounts of water from nearby homes and farms and directly from pumps connected to underground water sources.
“Neighbors reported water leaks, as well as comings and goings and lights working all the time,” he said.
As a result, detectives from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office began investigating and uncovered the complex criminal network.
Detectives have requested assistance from the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team and the Deschutes County Illicit Marijuana Enforcement Team (DCIME) to continue their investigation.
Over the next two years, CODE and DCIME detectives, as well as the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, US Customs and Border Patrol, United States Department of Homeland Security, CODE , determined the organizational structure and identified the direction of the criminal enterprise.
Special agents and intelligence analysts conducted hundreds of hours of physical and electronic surveillance on more than 24 organization members, 20 properties, bank accounts and Chinese restaurants in the Pacific Northwest and Asia.
The amount of cash seized in the operation has not yet been disclosed as the IRS is still processing the funds.
“Law enforcement does not know if the Chinese government knew about the cartel operation,” VanderKamp said.
“They were probably trying to keep it off the radar of both governments in order to reverse the funds,” he concluded.