County illegal marijuana grows tied to organized crime
Joe Siess, Herald and News
Law enforcement raided several large, allegedly illegal marijana
growing operations outside Beatty and Olene this week and
destroyed more than 22,000 plants
years, Oregon has become fertile ground for illegal
marijuana grow sites, and law enforcement has now confirmed
some in Klamath County have ties to international criminal
In most local
cases, law enforcement has found illegal growers from out of
state lease local properties, cultivate and produce
marijuana, and then distribute it to other parts of the
country — turning millions of dollars in profit. In the
process, growers use tremendous amounts of water, acquired
either by illegally taking it from area rivers and wells, or
buying it from locals hoping to make a buck.
Grow sites can
then be quickly abandoned — after the yield is harvested by
migrant laborers — and landowners are left cleaning up the
mess. The cycle continues each year with renewed vigor, and
until recently there wasn’t much law enforcement could do
about it. But earlier this week, a local consortium of law
enforcement drug officials raided three grow sites. Still,
the size and remoteness of much of Klamath County means
there are not enough resources to address the full weight of
It often starts
when someone comes to town and asks local landowners to
lease land to cultivate legal hemp crops. Some landowners
take the deal and allow the strangers to set up shop. The
problem, however, is that the growers aren’t planning to
grow hemp at all: They are planning to grow marijuana
illegally and offload much of the risk onto the local
Sheriff Chris Kaber said getting the message out to
landowners is part of his strategy to combat illegal grows.
“I believe many
of the landowners know exactly what they are doing when they
do it,” Kaber said. “I also believe some of them are duped
into believing it’s going to be a legal crop, and others are
ignorant of the fact that organized crime comes in to grow
illegal marijuana to take out of state and sell for a
said that the illegal grow sites he and other law
enforcement agencies raided on
Tuesday and Wednesday were all leased from local landowners.
risk their own land to do this, they risk someone else’s
land to do it, and pay a fee for it,” he said. “I want to
make it clear that when you are approached by someone who
wants to lease your property to grow hemp, I’d say they are
99.9% lying to you, the risk is yours.”
lack of law enforcement
Fred Klotz, a
Sprague River resident, said the problem of illegal
marijuana grows has increased significantly in recent years.
Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of law enforcement
presence to deter illegal growers from setting up shop in
rarely-visited parts of the county
absolutely no patrol deputies in our area,” Klotz said. “And
we believe that that has a lot to do with the proliferation
of these large grows.”
several grow sites have sprouted up around his property and
growers aren’t trying to hide their plans.
“This year they
are blatant,” Klotz said. “They don’t even cover the stuff
... They don’t care, and part of that is the lack of
presence of law enforcement.”
sucking water out of wells and taking it from rivers, Klotz
watching water trucks go up and down the road,” Klotz said.
“They go to a property that has a well and they transport
the water to a grow site.”
said growers usually take water from rivers or wells in the
middle of the night. But sometimes, locals will sell them
water, “another way they basically bilk our citizens,” he
horrific. Each marijuana plant will take at least a gallon
of water per day,” Kaber said. “Farmers can’t grow their
crops this year but these people are growing theirs by
said at the moment, the Sheriff’s Office is operating with
minimum staff, but is trying to fill numerous open positions and
get more funded by county commissioners. But even after all
those positions are filled, he said the agency will still
have limited capabilities in the most rural corners of
One of his
goals is to have enough deputies and resources to go back to
24-hour coverage and to be more proactive when it comes to
dealing with illegal grows
the Sheriff’s Office is unable to do regular patrols in
places as diverse as Sprague River or Gilchrist — 86 miles
away from Klamath Falls — is that Klamath County is simply
too big to patrol, and most of the 90 daily calls for
service that deputies received are from the suburban Klamath
”The people in
the outlying areas of our county are underserved,” Kaber
said. “Not because we are intentionally not going there,
it’s because most of the work is closer to town.”
In the end,
Kaber believes people in the outlying areas of the county
deserve better, but there is only so much he and other local
law enforcement agencies can do.
Kaber said he
and his office are willing to take the fight to the illegal
growers to the best of their ability.
believe it will be as fast or as effective as anybody would
like, including myself, but to do nothing would be wrong. We
are doing what we can. We hope to do more,” he said.
Law enforcement ramps up raids
has confirmed that many of the illegal growers in Klamath
County and elsewhere are associated with international
criminal organizations, and locally, raids on grow sites
have started to ramp up.
On Tuesday, two
large grow sites near Beatty were raided by the Basin
Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (BINET), and another
one near Olene was raided by the Sheriff’s Office on
The two sites
raided on Tuesday by BINET yielded 22,000 plants, and the
site raided Wednesday yielded 11,000 plants.
In both cases,
the grow sites were purported to be hemp, but upon
investigation it turned out they were all unlicensed, and
illegal marijuana grow operations.
No arrests were
made, but at the sites in Beatty, six farm workers were
detained for questioning.
detained farm workers were almost exclusively “transient
agricultural workers,” Kaber said, and none of them provided
any information on their employer out of fear of
reason the people we talk to who have been tending the crops
won’t talk is because they have been threatened with
retribution… either on them or their families” Kaber said.
“I know for certain that that’s why we hardly get any
information from the people at the lowest level of
production. They will not talk to you.”
Kaber and his
team were part of the BINET operation on Tuesday and were
able to provide their colleagues with manpower and an
armored vehicle that was used to enter one of the sites
after intel indicated the possibility of armed resistance.
operates out of the Klamath Falls Police Department,
consists of two detectives from KFPD and two detectives from
the Oregon State Police.
partnering with the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office, and
other local authorities, to maximize the positive impact on
our community,” said Jack Daniel, a lieutenant at KFPD.
property on which growers produce illegal marijuana crops
are owned by local residents, Daniel said the overall
operation — from production to distribution — is run by
people who reside out of the state and out of the country.
He characterized those groups as “international criminal
arrests have yet been made during this week’s busts,
criminal charges have been referred to the Klamath County
District Attorney’s Office for review.
Klamath County District Attorney, said the illegal marijuana
grow situation in the county is clearly concerning.
she said, is becoming an attractive place for illegal
growers to set up shop without having to worry about
obtaining a license or following the law..
harvesting early and shipping it out of state,” Costello
said. “These individuals are just here to make money and
they don’t care. People who are willing to take those kinds
of risks don’t care.”
‘We can’t keep them at bay’
Back in the
late 1990s, when recreational marijuana was illegal in
Oregon, Kaber said it was a good day when law enforcement
was able to bust a grow consisting of 100 plants.
“We would only
get 1,000-plant grows in Klamath County every once in a
while,” Kaber said. “Now, we’ve got 33,000 plants in four
grow sites just this week.”
marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 1998 — that’s when
things started to take a turn, Kaber said.
marijuana came to the state, that is when we in law
enforcement knew that the pandora’s box was opened,” said
Kaber. Over the next decades, growers have perfected their
methods for maximizing profits.
“If they lease
10 plots and they have growers and pickers they can move
around, and one or two of them (grow sites) get busted, they
are still going to make millions of dollars on the others,
because we are not capable of getting them all,” Kaber said.
“It’s like a flood of speeders coming down Highway 97, the
state police might be able to pick off two or three of them,
but they’re not going to get the rest of them.”
that the two properties raided on Tuesday, which consisted
of three grow sites, could have generated around $23
Kaber said that
Klamath County, with its limited law enforcement
capabilities, is prime real estate for illegal growers
because there simply aren’t enough officers or deputies to
do any significant damage. And growers know that.
”So we are
being inundated, we are being flooded with organized
criminal marijuana growers, because they’ve recognized that
Klamath County, and Oregon in general, has become a soft
spot,” Kaber said. “We can’t keep them at bay.”
Jackson and Josephine counties have been dealing with the
same issue for many years, Kaber said, but it is now
creeping into Klamath County at an unprecedented rate.
“It is a huge
production area in Oregon for other states,” Kaber said. “We
are trying to not become like Jackson and Josephine county.
We are doing our best to hold it at bay. We haven’t been
able to do a very good job of that in the last several
ground will only put law enforcement, and local residents,
in a more difficult position going forward.
level of lawlessness creeping into our county and there has
been for some time because those sorts of people look for
where they can operate more freely, and rural Oregon
counties are becoming that place,” Kaber added. “Nobody
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