Authorities Dismantle Chinese Cartel Marijuana Operation in Central Oregon

On Friday, August 12th, 2022, at approximately 7:30a, detectives with the Oregon State Police, Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team, and United States Homeland Security Investigations executed a search warrant in Madras, Oregon.

This is a continuation of the June 2022 investigation and series of search warrants related to the international drug organization that is alleged to be growing and processing illicit marijuana from Madras and Culver, Oregon before delivering it to Portland for nationwide distribution.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Detectives requested the assistance of the Central Oregon Drug Team and the Deschutes County Illicit Marijuana Enforcement Team to further their investigation. Over 18 months, CODE and DCIME detectives, special agents, and intelligence analysts conducted hundreds of hours of physical and electronic surveillance on over twenty-three members of the organization, twenty properties, bank accounts, and Chinese-food restaurants around the pacific northwest and Asia.

With the assistance of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service, US Customs and Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, CODE, and DCIME, Detectives determined the organizational structure and identified the leadership. It was discovered that proceeds from the marijuana sales were often laundered through the Chinese restaurants and businesses before being diverted back to China disguised as an international business transaction.

While earlier last week, detectives applied for and received a Search Warrant at 637 NE 10th St, Madras. During this search warrant, 60 lbs of bulk unprocessed marijuana and 807 plants were seized. Several additional suspects, both foreign and domestic, have been identified. Detectives expect additional arrests are forthcoming once additional follow-up investigations and search warrants are complete.

Detectives found this particular grow site used jerry-rigged copper wire that bypassed the circuit breakers, inferior extension cords, and power strips secured with zip ties as permanent exterior wiring for processing equipment, lighting, fans, etc. Overloaded electrical wiring has caused fires in other marijuana to grow facilities. 

The Madras community and surrounding areas in Jefferson County have been struggling with severe drought conditions. Since the beginning of CODE and DCIME, investigators have found illegal marijuana grows diverted or stolen significant water from nearby homes, commercial farms, or directly from pumps connected to underground sources in the arid central Oregon high desert.

It is estimated that indoor marijuana cultivation uses between 2.5 and 3.0 gallons per day per plant. That equals to about 2,421 gallons per day or 72,630 gallons of water per month at this grow site alone. US Department of Interior and the USGSestimates that an average person uses 3,000 gallons of water monthly, so a family of 4 would use 12,000 gallons for bathing, cooking, washing, recreation and watering.

Black Mold on Site: Courtesy of CODE

Additionally, Illegal marijuana farms, including this one, often use pesticides and insecticides that threaten residential water supplies and endanger the end user. This particular grow site was also infested with black mold. According to the CDC, Black mold is dangerous to those with immune suppression, asthma, or other respiratory problems. There are reports that ingesting or inhaling toxigenic molds, like black mold, can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss.

Officials say this remains an active investigation. CODE and DCIME have identified additional grow sites operated by this organization. Investigators know the remaining locations and will continue to dismantle these sites as the investigation progresses.