▶️ St. Charles says it overpaid workers $2 million, wants the money back

The Oregon Nurses Association (ONA) has sent a cease and desist letter to St. Charles Health System on Friday after it was reported the hospital seeks to receive back payment from its employees. It all stems from the hacking of a payroll management provider that affected companies nationwide.

The letter alleges the demands by St. Charles for repayment by employees is illegal.

The workforce management company Kronos was hacked late last year. It forced the hospital to conduct its payroll method by hand.

Errors were made in the process, leading to underpaid and overpaid workers. St. Charles says the overpayment totals reach about $2 million. 

RELATED: St. Charles temporarily enacts crisis standards of care; State says no

RELATED: St. Charles CEO Joe Sluka stepping down after eight years

St. Charles nurse Megan Bovi says she was handed a sticky note, without warning, detailing an amount of $2,900 that she owed. Bovi says there is no proof she was overpaid or how the amount was calculated.

“I’m not just going to take their word for it,” Bovi said. “I need evidence and why has this been rolled out so unprofessionally and disrespectfully and without tact?”

In a statement sent to Central Oregon Daily News, St. Charles spokesperson Lisa Goodman says the hospital believes employee time card entries show fewer hours than what employees are claiming to have worked.

ONA claims the Oregon Bureau of Labor Institute is clear on the issue.

“Paycheck deductions going to the employer to pay for an alleged ‘overpayment’ or loan are not for the employee’s benefit and are therefore unlawful,” the cease and desist letter reads.

Goodman responded to the letter on Friday.

“We strongly believe that we’ve complied with the law and with our contractual obligations in every respect as we’ve paid our employees and as we now look at how to make payroll corrections that are needed because of the ransomware attack on UKG,” Goodman said in an email.

▶️ Madras marijuana grow op bust Friday a continuation of June investigation

Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) seized more than 800 marijuana plants while serving a search warrant in Madras Friday. It was the continuation of an investigation into a Chinese cartel that resulted in a record bust in June.

CODE said the warrant at a home on NE 10th Street near NE Cedar Street in Madras netted 60 pounds of bulk, unprocessed marijuana and 807 plants.

Detectives also found the grow site used shoddy, jerry-rigged wiring that bypassed circuit breakers to power processing equipment, fans and lighting. CODE notes that overloaded electrical wiring has caused fires at other grow sites.

RELATED: International gangs, trafficked labor behind many local illegal pot grows

RELATED: Jefferson County drug bust: 5 arrests, 8 tons of marijuana, links to China

Another common feature of grow sites is that they often divert water meant for nearby properties. CODE said this grow site diverted an estimated 2,421 gallons of water per day. That’s almost as much as the average person uses in one month, according to U.S. government estimates.

This site was also infested with black mold, CODE said.

Several suspects were identified and arrests are expected.

CODE said this was a continuation of the June 2022 investigation search warrants related to an international drug cartel that allegedly grows and processes illegal marijuana in Madras and Culver. That pot, CODE said, would then be shipped to Portland where it would be distributed nationwide.

▶️ International gangs, trafficked labor behind many local illegal pot grows

Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon, of course. But the illegal pot business hasn’t gone away.

In fact, it’s a growth industry.

And we’re not talking about your neighbor growing a few dozen plants in his barn for personal consumption. We’re talking about international criminal gangs using trafficked labor in major marijuana growing operations.

And they’re keeping local drug teams busy.

Deschutes County Detective Dustin Miller walked us through what’s left of a major illegal grow that was busted on July 6, 2022.

“These are designed to go up, be one season and be done,” said Miller. “This is a large operation.”

Just east of the Bend Airport, in a neighborhood of small farms and private homes and hiding in plain sight, they found 25 flimsy greenhouses.

“Counting this large one back here, the large one we found here just had starters and growing materials different things probably for the original stages before they planted the real greenhouses,” said Miller.

Bend pot bust greenhouses

The same bust involved another property. Together, more than 6,000 plants were confiscated. Estimated street value: $3.5 million.

RELATED: 2 Bend locations raided in marijuana bust; $3.5M in street value pot seized

“What we have become is the criminal breeding ground for this criminal activity as it’s spread across the states,” said Miller.

And this is just the most recent. 

The biggest bust in county history came in September 2021 in Alfalfa. Nine thousand plants and more than a ton of processed pot. Detectives say it was run by a Mexican cartel. The workers were brought into the country illegally, working off debt and living in terrible conditions.

RELATED: Arrests in Mexican drug cartel bust could take months, detectives say

Alfalfa pot bust 2021

This past April, 2,800 plants were seized. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and more than a dozen firearms.

On June 14, Jefferson County busted a record haul of 17,000 plants and eight tons of processed pot. Another foreign-run operation, this one tied to a cartel in China. Mostly Chinese workers living in the same conditions as the other grows.

RELATED: Jefferson County drug bust: 5 arrests, 8 tons of marijuana, links to China

“Very little money. Very little food. Very little water. Very little shelter. Essentially no bathrooms,” said Miller. “The filth that they are being forced to live in is not anyplace any of us like to spend an evening much less send a full growing season.”

Jefferson County pot bust

Grow sites like this are dangerous fire hazards.

“A lot of them are run off extension cords, overloading breakers and circuits, said Miller.

And there are health hazards. The products are completely unregulated.

“We’re seeing hard fertilizers. We’re seeing pesticides and we’re seeing chemicals being placed on these plants and around these greenhouses to deter the rodents that are not intended for human consumption,” said Miller.

It’s happening because there’s money to be made — big money — in illegal marijuana.

“California, Washington,  Oregon is known for having some of the best marijuana in the United States,” said Miller.

It’s a classic case of buy low, sell high.

“You can buy bulk — $900 dollars a pound, $1,000 a pound, $1,200 a pound — and you can take it back to the other side of the country and you can triple that,” said Miller.

Or just grow your own and ship it out of state by truck, by the U.S. mail or package delivery services, detectives say.

The state’s hemp industry — often providing camouflage for illegal grows.

“It’s become fairly socially accepted to see large hemp farms being grown,” said Miller. It’s harder for law enforcement to discover them. It’s harder for us to see them, identify them and process them when they are in fact an illegal grow when there are so many of them.”

Marijuana

This metaphorical swamp was supposed to dry up with legalization.

Here’s one of the stated purposes of Ballot Measure 91.

 “Prevent revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.”

Statements in support:

“Measure 91 fights back against drug cartels so that they face competition with the regulated market and go out of business.” — Volunteer firefighter and EMT

“We can cut off the unlawful drug trafficking with a smart approach at home.” — Former Supreme Court Justice

“Cut off the black market and send the cartels packing.” — Vote Yes on 91 campaign

“Get rid of violent drug cartel grow operations.” — Council for Retired Citizens

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson calls that reasoning a farce.

“What we’re seeing is an increase in the cartel operations,” said Nelson.

“The argument that it would get rid of the black market industry, that argument hasn’t held up,” he continued. “We’re not seeing that. As a matter of fact, I believe we’re seeing an increase in the black market industry because marijuana from Oregon has probably by now been found in all 50 states and maybe other countries.”

Nelson is adding personnel to the county’s Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Team, hoping to avoid what’s happened in Douglas, Josephine and Jackson counties. Leaders there have declared states of emergency with law enforcement overwhelmed.

It’s led to legislative approval of $25 million in anti-drug funding and prompted a moratorium on licenses for hemp farms.

“They’ve made a dent by having the state of emergency and putting the licenses on a moratorium,” said Miller. “We’re seeing those particular type of grows start to squirt out to the community and they’re squirting out to Klamath County, Lake County, Deschutes County.”

That means more work for local drug teams who could use more resources.

“We probably have 25-30 active cases right now that we’re working on,” said Miller.

So do the math. How many more plants; how many more guns; how many more trafficked workers are out there right now, right here at home?

In most cases, it is tips from suspicious neighbors which lead to investigations and eventual busts. Central Oregon Daily News spoke with neighbors at several Bend-area grow sites and they were willing to talk to us, but not on camera. They admit they’re scared off by that word “cartels” and the serious criminal element involved.

▶️ Save the date: Oregon Defensible Space code town halls next week

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s office is holding five town halls in Central Oregon next week to discuss the Oregon Defensible Space Code. The town halls will address the code’s development, timelines, and upcoming opportunities for community input, the fire marshal’s office said.

Here are the dates and times for the Central Oregon town halls:

  • August 16 at 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sunriver, Three Rivers School Gym, 56900 Enterprise Drive 
  • August 16 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Bend, Sky View Middle School Cafeteria, 63555 NE 18th Street 
  • August 17 at 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Sisters, Sisters Community Room, Sisters Fire, 301 S Elm Street 
  • August 17 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Prineville, Crook County High School Auditorium, 1100 SE Lynn Blvd 
  • August 18 at 5:30 – 7 p.m., Madras, Madras Performing Arts, 412 SE Buff Street  

The OSFM has a section on its website dedicated to the defensible space code development process. To learn more, visit defensible space code requirements. 

Drug detection dog Ladybug joins Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team

Ladybug is on the job.

The Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team announced Bend Police drug detection K9 Ladybug and her handler, Detective Rob Pennock, are joining the team.

CODE says 10-year-old Ladybug “is highly trained at using her sense of smell to detect a variety of controlled substances, except marijuana. She will be a valuable tool to her teammates during our investigations all around Central Oregon.”

Reasons Ladybug was picked include her “unusually high play, prey, hunt and retrieve drives.” She was also selected based on her socialization, personality, size, and confidence in all environments such as elevated and slick surfaces, confined spaces, and inclement weather.   

Ladybug is a Belgian Malinois. Her favorite off-duty activities include hanging around a campfire and tummy scratches.

RELATED: DCSO: Fentanyl, meth, brass knuckles seized in arrest of Redmond man, woman

RELATED: Prineville man arrested for trafficking Fentanyl

▶️ ‘It was gnar’: Another Central Oregon thunderstorm rolls through

Summer thunderstorms in Central Oregon are nothing new. But even ones like those that rolled through Tuesday can manage to grab your attention.

“It was pretty gnar,” said Paul Streichan, manager of Whappos at the Silvermon Food Truck Court.

“It was so loud that the whole building shook,” said Jenna Wazny, Manager of Avid Cider Company in Bend.

The storm didn’t just shake Avid Cider, it also flooded it. 

“The hail started pretty soon after that and then it flooded in here and that is where my focus was,” said Wazny.

RELATED: Your Central Oregon thunderstorm photos

Silvermoon’s Food Truck Court also felt the storm’s wrath. 

“We definitely lost power for a brief couple of seconds and my ears are still kinda ringing to be honest. We felt a little strange being in a metal box around all of this,” said Streichan.

In other areas, the damage was much more severe. Downed power lines blocked roads in La Pine near Quail Run Golf Course. 

And Central Oregon Fire Information reported 800 lighting strikes and 70 new fire starts Tuesday. A Red Flag or Fire Weather Warning was in place for Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties through the end of Tuesday due to the risk of lightning starting a fire.
 
One lightning strike Tuesday morning knocked out power to 34,000 Pacific Power customers.
 
 
 
 

Your Central Oregon thunderstorm photos

You’ve shared some amazing photos with Central Oregon Daily News of the thunderstorms that have been rolling through the region Monday and Tuesday. Here are but a few.

See latest on the forecast on the Central Oregon Daily News weather page.

And you can share your photos with us at weather@centraloregondaily.com.

RELATED: ‘I have never seen this’: Chaotic storm rattles longtime La Pine residents

RELATED: ‘It was gnar’: Another Central Oregon thunderstorm rolls through

RELATED: 100 new fire starts, mostly small, in Central Oregon lightning storms

Lightning Aug. 8, 2022
(CREDIT: Samantha Riley)
Lightning Aug. 9, 2022
(CREDIT: Paul Lauer)
Lightning Aug. 9, 2022
(CREDIT: Catherine Graham)
Lighting Aug. 9. 2022
(Credit: Stephanie Stout)

Lightning Aug. 9, 2022

 

▶️ Indian Head Casino, Plateau Travel Plaza holding job fairs this week

Indian Head Casino is holding job fairs this week to fill 60 positions.

One is Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the casino in Warm Springs.

The other is Thursday from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Plateau Travel Plaza in Madras.

There are 40 full-time and part-time positions available at the casino and 20 at the plaza.

Applicants must pass a background and drug test. More information can be found at indianheadcasino.com.

RELATED: Bend High School holding job fair and zamboni races

RELATED: KIDS Inc. hiring event for afterschool childcare

▶️ Jefferson County awards $750,000 to expand industrial space

Jefferson County has awarded $750,000 for projects expanding industrial space across the county.

Three different projects will each get $250,000. They include the construction of a manufacturing industrial building, a new truck wash and business center and the expansion of the Eagle Ridge Industrial Complex.

“No buildings have been built for a long time,” said John Stark, CEO of Economic Development Central Oregon. “One of the developers has a building going vertical now. This will be a second building for them. So, in the absence of space, there’s nowhere to put people. Now we’re building space so new businesses can move in, local companies can expand. Tremendous opportunity of the city of Madras and Jefferson County to create jobs and capital investment in their community.

According to a U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics report, the volume of business in Jefferson County has grown about 30% over the past decade.

Jefferson County $750,000 Grants Summary

▶️ Police shooting in Madras in July justified, Jefferson County DA concludes

The Jefferson County District Attorney has concluded officers with the Madras Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were justified when they shot and injured a man in Madras nearly two weeks ago.

Witnesses say Rafael Gomez, 30, was looking for unlocked cars in the parking lot of the fair grounds that Friday night, eventually pulling a rifle and magazine out of a truck.

They say he began pointing that gun at several people before police eventually caught up with him.

Officers shot and injured Gomez as he was entering the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Highway 97.

RELATED: Madras officer-involved shooting suspect charged with attempted murder

RELATED: Fair incident leads to more interest in firearms classes in Madras

Police found the stolen AR-15 next to Gomez, saying the rifle had jammed when he tried to fire it.

Gomez told police he wanted to be famous, according to the D.A.

You can read the full press release from the D.A.’s office here.

Madras Officer Involved Shooting Jefferson County DA report

Watch our coverage from the night of the shooting