A Madras man is suspected of being one of the leaders of a major illegal drug operation that was busted in Jefferson County Tuesday. The operation allegedly used Chinese laborers who had been trafficked into the country.
The bust ended a two-year investigation that the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) Team said involved alleged growing and processing of illicit marijuana in Madras and Culver. The drugs were then allegedly sent to Portland to be distributed nationwide.
Robert Joseph Dale, 64, of Madras was identified by CODE as one of the alleged leaders. The grow site properties are owned mainly by him, his family or by a business owned and controlled by Dale, CODE said.
The investigation began following complaints and tips from the community. There were as many as 20 grow locations in the Jefferson County area, CODE said.
Proceeds from marijuana sales would be laundered through Chinese restaurants and other businesses before being sent back to China disguised as international business transactions, according to CODE.
Investigators contacted 14 Chinese laborers in the case. CODE said most of them had been trafficked into the U.S. through Mexico and found work in restaurants in Oregon and Washington.
The cartel eventually recruited restaurant workers to work in the illegal marijuana trade, CODE said. They were found living at the grow sites.
Six search warrants were served in Madras and Culver Tuesday morning. Authorities said they detained 15 people and seized:
- 16,240 pounds of marijuana
- 17,704 plants
- 4 firearms
- Large cache of U.S. currency
Five people were arrested and booked into the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Jail:
- Robert Joseph Dale, 64, of Madras
- Sam Chen, 45, of Madras, Oregon
- Dong Hai Zhu, 51, of Beaverton
- Sky Hong He Su, 39, of Portland
- Wenjian Yan, 36, of Brooklyn, New York
The men were charged with unlawful manufacturing, deliver and possession of marijuana. Dale was also charged with unlawful firearm possession.
More suspects have been identified, CODE said, and detectives expect more arrests. More sites are expected to be dismantled soon.
Ten laborers were detained, identified, interviewed, and later released by Detectives. The laborers will not be identified as time.
In addition to the grow operations being illegal, CODE said the operations diverted or stole significant amounts of water from nearby homes, farms and directly from pumps connected to underground water sources. They also allegedly used pesticides and insecticides.