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Two-year investigation uncovers illegal grows, human trafficking, money laundering, stolen water

PHOTO COURTESY CENTRAL OREGON DRUG ENFORCEMENT  - The Tuesday morning raid served search warrants simultaneously on six grow operations including this property on 1932 Southwest Bear Drive in Madras.

Local and federal authorities blew the top off a sprawling illegal drug operation centered in Jefferson County, detaining 15 people and six locations Tuesday morning, June 14.

Investigators finger local farmer Robert Joseph Dale, 64, of Madras as one of the leaders in an operation that spread to Portland, around the country and to China.

PHOTO COURTESY CENTRAL OREGON DRUG ENFORCEMENT - Agents confiscated four firearms in the Tuesday morning raid on six properties in Madras and Culver.

China connection

The two-year investigation involved an international drug organization that allegedly grew and processed illegal marijuana from Madras and Culver before delivering it to Portland for nationwide distribution.

Detectives found proceeds from marijuana sales were often laundered through Chinese restaurants and businesses before being diverted back to China disguised as an international business transaction.

Most of the 14 Chinese laborers contacted by detectives were trafficked into the United States through Mexico and found work in restaurants throughout Oregon and Washington. Later, this cartel organization recruited restaurant laborers to work in the illegal marijuana trade for a salary. The laborers were found living at the grow sites, the cartel often moved workers from grow site to grow site.

PHOTO COURTESY CENTRAL OREGON DRUG ENFORCEMENT - Trash piles found on one of the properties involved in the drug raid Tuesday morning at six locations in Jefferson County.

Local farmer acts as hub

Investigators say Dale owned most of the the illicit grow site properties or owned them with his family members or a business entity owned and controlled by Dale. Additionally, a few other property owners have been identified as members of the organization and are still outstanding at his time.

Those arrested and lodged at the Jefferson County Jail include:

— Robert Joseph Dale, age 64, of Madras, Oregon

— Dong Hai Zhu, age 51, of Beaverton, Oregon

— Sky Hong He Su, age 39, of Portland, Oregon

— Wenjian Yan, age 36, of Brooklyn, New York

— Sam Chen, age 45, of Madras, Oregon

These suspects are all charged with unlawful manufacturing, delivery and possession of marijuana. In addition to the above charges, Robert Dale was also charged with the unlawful possession of a firearm.

Detectives detained and interviewed 10 laborers, then released them.

PHOTO COURTESY CENTRAL OREGON DRUG ENFORCEMENT  - The Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team said illegal marijuana farms, including this one, often use pesticides and insecticides that can threaten residential water supplies and endanger the end user.

Results from search warrant

Those executing the search warrants discovered 16,240 pounds of processed marijuana, 17,704 plants, four firearms, and a large cache of U.S. currency.

The locations searched include:

— 885 SW Ford Lane, Culver, OR

— 141 SW Dover Lane, Madras, OR

— 1932 SW Bear Drive, Madras, OR

— 8781 SW Feather Drive, Culver, OR

— 1735 NE Hilltop, Madras, OR

— 1703 NE Hilltop, Madras, OR

Stolen water

During this extended drought investigators found illegal marijuana grows diverted or stole significant water from nearby homes, commercial farms, or directly from pumps connected to underground sources.

These growing sites used underground water and assigned water rights while maintaining a complex watering system that supplied over 17,000 plants.

Additionally, Illegal marijuana farms, including this one, often use pesticides and insecticides that threaten residential water supplies and endanger the end user.

Multi-agency collaboration

This investigation, the simultaneous search warrants, and the follow-up investigation involved a host of local and federal agencies, including the sheriffs from Jefferson, Crook and Deschutes Counties, the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team, the Deschutes County Illicit Marijuana Enforcement Team, to the IRS, the DEA, US Customs, and Homeland Security.

Over a period of 18 months detectives, special agents, and intelligence analysts conducted hundreds of hours of physical and electronic surveillance on over 23 members of the organization, 20 properties, bank accounts, and Chinese food restaurants around the Pacific Northwest and Asia.

Several additional suspects, both foreign and domestic, have been identified. Detectives expect additional arrests.

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