A Mexican drug cartel, a humanitarian crisis, and acres upon acres of illegally grown marijuana.
It’s not the plot of a blockbuster film…it’s a story straight out of Alfalfa, right here in Central Oregon.
On Sept. 2, detectives from the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team executed a search warrant at a 30-acre property near Alfalfa Market Rd. and Dodds Rd., after an investigation spanning more than a year.
“It’s one of the larger ones we’ve seen in Deschutes County without a doubt,” said Sgt. Kent Vander Kamp with Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, who helped supervise the investigation.
Detectives gained a search warrant after nearby neighbors complained of dried-up wells and residential water, as well as excessive noise.
“When you have an operation of that size, it tends to need almost 24/7 care in terms of trimming and processing and watering and moving plants,” Vander Kamp said. “So when you live in a quiet neighborhood like Alfalfa, it tends to draw attention, which is what happened in this situation.
“We looked at it last year, and it was present, but it was on a much smaller scale than it was when the season opened this year.
“This year, we were watching it from the beginning of the season, and we were surprised at how quickly it expanded and grew.”
Detectives also discovered nearly two dozen workers who were living on-site.
“When we first started watching the property we knew there were a lot of people coming and going, we just didn’t realize there were that many living there,” Vander Kamp said.
Most of them were Mexican nationals, living in primitive structures with limited clean water, and forced to dump their waste into the soil.
“Most did not know that they were committing crimes,” Vander Kamp said. “They thought they were processing hemp, which is legal, so honestly we turned that into more of a humanitarian mission and making sure they have the resources they need to go back to their homes.”
One suspect was arrested at the scene, but plenty of culprits are still on the loose.
“This organization is large enough to where there’s multiple layers to it that we’re going to peel back. Over the next 3 to 6 months we’re probably going to have another series of arrests from just this case as we figure out who the players are and where they are,” Vander Kamp added.
He believes many of the key players are located in Jalisco, Mexico, California and in Central Oregon.
“I think a lot of people expect investigations like this to be wrapped up like a one-hour crime show on TV,” he said. “And I always have to remind people, it takes so much more between surveillance and watching people, watching methods, watching the money, because we watch a lot of the digital footprints that are left behind. So there’s a lot more to it, other than just kicking in a front door and arresting people.”