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C.O. drug agents dismantle major illegal marijuana grow in Alfalfa, run by Mexican cartel

Alfalfa marijuana grow DCSO 93-1
Deschutes County Sheriff's Office
Aerial view of illegal marijuana grow raided Thursday
Alfalfa marijuana grow DCSO 93-2
Deschutes County Sheriff's Office
One of 49 greenhouses at illegal grow site raided in Alfalfa last year

(Update: More details on migrant workers' status)

Detectives say most laborers were Mexican nationals illegally trafficked into US, forced to work

ALFALFA, Ore. (KTVZ) – 'Millions of dollars worth of marijuana,' Central Oregon drug detectives, assisted by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team, raided and dismantled a 30-acre illegal marijuana grow in Alfalfa operated by a Mexican drug cartel, seizing more than 9,200 plants in what’s likely the largest such bust in county history, deputies said Friday.

Thursday’s raid by detectives with the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team concluded a long-term investigation involving the large-scale outdoor marijuana grow near Dodds and Alfalfa Market roads, Sergeant Kent Vander Kamp said.

The search warrant led to seizure of 9,227 marijuana plants in various stages of growth in 49 greenhouses, he said. Detectives also seized 2,800 pounds of processed marijuana, two pistols and an AR-15 rifle.

An investigation found that the grow site was run by and affiliated with a Mexican cartel seeking to grow and sell illegal marijuana throughout the country, Vander Kamp said.

Most of the laborers found working on the site are Mexican nationals who were illegally trafficked into the country and forced to work at the site, the sergeant said. They were found living in primitive wooden structures and dome tents, with limited clean-water sources and dumping wastewater directly into the soil.

Vander Kamp said about 20 people were detained and later released by detectives at the scene. Some laborers fled onto neighboring property, he said, but offered no resistance when contacted by detectives.

Several suspects, both foreign and domestic, have been identified. One person was arrested at the scene and released with a citation to appear in court. Vander Kamp said detectives expect more arrests, after more follow-up investigations.

Vander Kamp said several million dollars worth of marijuana was being growth in the extraordinary, very sophisticated operation.

"I don't think we were expecting to walk into a facility of that large of an operation, and there were a lot of people there," he told NewsChannel 21. "And it kind of turned our criminal investigation into now more of a humanitarian mission. So our goal is to kind of identify the 'head of the snake' and work our way to find out where that person is."

Vander Kamp said law enforcement had been watching the property for two years, but that now was the time to conduct the raid due to its impacts on the community.

Vander Kamp also provided this statement about the workers on Saturday:

"We assisted the migrant workers to collect their property and load vehicles during the late afternoon after the search warrant. Some workers that did not have personal transportation were assisted by those that did. Several of them traveled from the East Coast and others from California. As you can imagine, many feared retaliation or punishment from the grow owners after the raid and chose to leave the area.

"Our investigators found that while some of the migrants were working against their will or under duress, the marijuana cultivation, processing and trimming business can also be lucrative for 'contract' migrant workers. We believe some of the workers we encountered are 'contractors' that travel around during the marijuana cultivation season, making a handsome income. I cannot share details of the 'duress'; the unpaid workers had been paying off personal or family debts owed to the cartel organization.

"We have received several inquires asking why the migrants were not being arrested. The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office does not enforce federal immigration laws. However, our investigators chose to handle this unusual situation more as a humanitarian effort, to ensure their safety and well-being. While their marijuana cultivations activities are unlawful, our investigation determined that (they) are not responsible for the overall operation of the grow site. The case agent has collected all of their information and individual roles at the scene. This information will be provided to the assigned prosecutors, and they will make the charging decisions."

"Our efforts will be spent seeking out and charging the 'management' and command persons of this operation in Oregon, the United States and Mexico. We are still processing evidence from this week and expect more arrests will soon follow," Vander Kamp concluded.

While possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal for recreational use in Oregon, such large, unlicensed operations remain illegal.

“Due to these operations being unregulated, they pose dangers to the public and environment,” Vander Kamp said in Friday's news release.

For example, residents in Alfalfa and nearby areas have been struggling with consistent groundwater sources. Since the enforcement team was created, investigators have found illegal marijuana grows diverted or stole “significant water” from nearby homes and farms, or directly from pumps connected to underground water sources, Vander Kamp said.

This grow site used groundwater and maintained a complex watering system that supplied several on-site 15,000 to 20,000-gallon cisterns, he said.

Also, illegal marijuana farms such as this often use pesticides and insecticides that threaten residential water supplies and endanger users.

The grows also have a very high electrical demand due to the lights, fans and other equipment. Vander Kamp said this grow site used jerry-rigged cooper wire, extension cords and power strips as permanent exterior wiring for processing equipment, lighting and fans. Overloaded electrical wiring has caused fires in other grow facilities, Vander Kamp said.

The Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement program is a partnership between the sheriff’s office, Bend police and the district attorney’s office.

DCIME detectives were aided in the investigation, eradication and dismantling of the site by the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team, Bend and Redmond police, the Deschutes and Crook County sheriff’s offices and the Alfalfa Fire Department, as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Author Profile Photo

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Author Profile Photo

Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.



      1. Yeah…..a community like Alfalfa, no way was this not common knowledge. Either they were stealing water from neighbors, or there were lots of tanker trucks coming and going. Either way….hidden in plain sight. I mean, DCSO could do a monthly flyover the county and spot these in a minute…I’m sure this is not the only one.

    1. Violent gangs
      Illegal Drugs
      Illegal Aliens
      Illegal Guns
      Illegal Pot
      Stealing Water
      Stealing Power
      Damaging property
      Etc, Etc, Etc

      And you were triggered that they didn’t mention pot uses less water than other crops?

          1. Cannabis overdose deaths are now equal to the number of people gored to death by unicorns. The only reason the government cares about this pot farm is because it cuts into their profits.

            1. So you’re good with the cartel living in our community growing literally tons of weed? I guess you haven’t read up on the brutality that cartels inflict. Might want to check that out.

                1. Not sure what the hell Donald Trump has to do with what I said, but I’ll take your answer as a complete disregard for the cartel’s destructive and illegal operations.

                2. Soze, this is the mass murdering, largest suppliers of heroin, meth, coke, fentanyl, responsible for 1000’s of deaths annually , Mexican cartel. Stationed 14 mi. from Costco parking lot. Appears your biggest enemy is between your ears.

                3. Literally 9000 unvaccinated republican Americans died of Covid last week because they listened to Trump instead of following his example and getting the shot. But yes, be very afraid of ‘the Mexicans’.

                4. I’m talking about the drug cartels and you keep saying “the Mexicans”. The only person here who can’t seem to distinguish between the two is you.

              1. Hard to believe that someone on this thread is actually defending this drug cartel operation as not that bad. They must work in the “cannabis industry” (i.e pot farming or pot sales).

            2. Gateway drug. And many more die of drug overdoses each year than COVID will in total. Biden and co are doing their best to ruin our country in as short of a time as possible

        1. Why would they want to? Did you read about living conditions, being trafficked? They likely looked at intervention as saving them from the cartel if only temporarily. Likely their families are under duress from the cartel in their home countries. What’s wrong with you people thinking this is OK?

    2. How much groundwater was allotted for that grow? How was it accounted for? How much groundwater is allotted to these thirsty crops you are referring to? Are surface water rights and groundwater rights the same thing? Is it ok to steal water for pot because it uses less water than some other crops?

    3. Yes, crop irrigation uses 90+% of the water used in this region, but most of that is surface water (Deschutes River and Crooked River). This apparently was using groundwater. Still, they were using a lot less than any new Bend suburban subdivision.

    4. Why in the world should this article be promoting growing pot? In case you misunderstood this was a very illegal grow. Actually the property had a legal permit to grow medical marijuana but they failed in meeting the criteria after two years so it was taken away. This grow was done by sucking ground water from all of their neighbors to the point where some people had to dig their wells deeper to the tune of $10,000 to reach the water. I guess we can just call it a nice donation to the Mexican cartel but It’s not how I want to spend my money. The point that pot takes less water than other crops is moot here. They didn’t have the water to grow other crops, they didn’t have the water to grow marijuana.

  1. Sooooo, I wonder if the Land owner was an Illegal? hmmmm, let’s just focus on Illegals and not the AMERICAN land owner M’kay? Exploiting cheap labor is the AMERICAN way folks! Let’s just keep it real! I will be awaiting your reply from your “Chinese” Devises! Thank you in advance!

        1. “Protect and serve”? Hilarious!

          That’s a marketing slogan, not a promise, and certainly no guarantee. Refer to Warren v DC to have it explained more clearly if you like.

    1. I don’t know that the people should have been thrown in jail, as at least some of them were likely kidnapped to work here. They probably would be grateful for deportation to give them a ride back home to be with their families.

  2. Well, sure…Provide them sanctuary and the Cartels will come…bringing their own forced labor. They don’t pay taxes either. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

  3. “Most of the laborers found working on the site are Mexican nationals who were illegally trafficked into the country and forced to work at the site” What?, wait a minute, this can’t be happening, not in America?! This administration claims they have a better way of controlling things. Ok, so, where’s the control part of everything? Clearly it’s not at the southern boarders. Way to go Drool Dribbling Joe.

  4. That’s an awful lot of suppositions on your part. Please fill us in with the details of your behind the scenes knowledge! Who does own the property? How complicit was the owner? C’mon, don’t on the edge of our seats!

  5. Funny that the locals in the area allowed this invading foreign enterprise to grow to this size under their noses without sounding the alarm or taking action themselves. But I suppose asking questions and being nosy in that neighborhood isn’t considered polite … or something.

    1. As a matter of fact, having been one of the neighbors, it was mention to the police aid was given to the police to monitor, but being the country we live in they needed to make sure that it would be a solid bust before they went in there because anything less would be a catch and release.

        1. Yes, and given the amount of money they were pulling in I’m sure the land owners were not living on the premises, so to track them down and bring charges is going to take time. The people actually on the property were no doubt just the peons.

  6. waste of tax payer money, obiden welcomes any and all illegals. DA will not file any charges most likely, so again just a waste of tax payer money.

  7. Sounds like a lot of the former comment people are whining about water use is less for pot than crops, but the crops are legal and the pot farm was not. They will just have to pay a higher price for their pot that was grown legal(ish). But hey, no worries, Creepy Sleepy China Joe Obiden will fix everything, Just ask Hunter and the ATF!!!!

  8. I am surprised that there was no mention of the county’s loss of tax revenue from the illegal marijuana sales. This alone, is incentive enough to shut down the grows.

    Now, how and where will all of these unemployed illegals live? Will there be protests about their civil rights now that they have been displaced by the police? Time will tell.

  9. Wait so I can come to central Oregon and make a thirty acre pot grow and the worse thing that will happen is I will be detained and let go? Dang it almost seems worth it. And your name will still be in the clear because the news won’t publish it lol.

  10. Awesome. We can only expect to see more of this on a much greater scale now that the border is open and OVER ONE MILLION illegals have come in since January, thanks to Biden’s failures. 10% of them are COVID positive, but he yells at us and locks down our cities.

    In what world does this make any sense?

    Biden voters – you happy with your choice?

  11. You certainly get a few more details from the Oregon Live coverage of this story. They indicate that they didn’t arrest the migrant workers, because most were there to “pay off debt for being smuggled into the country”. So, these workers were coming into the country illegally of their own free will, they were not taken or kidnapped from their homes, and forced to work on this farm. They were working there to pay off a debt to the smugglers who got them over the border. It also states that a “Bend woman, who oversaw the workers and the property was arrested and released with a citation to appear in court, Vander Kamp said. Other local people are suspects and detectives expect to make more arrests.” This farm has been under investigation for two years. Why take that long to build a case, just to let everyone go? Especially when they found the illegal operation had been diverting a significant amount of water from nearby homes and farms already struggling with drought conditions. I’ve heard there are neighbors who’s wells have run dry, and they are facing large costs to drill new wells. Who will be responsible for reimbursing these families for those expenses and losses if it is because of this farm illegally diverting their water? I wonder where all the workers have gone now that they are free and illegally in the United States?

    1. Anyone with a well that went dry in the area should sue the folks who were running the operation for the cost of a new well. You won’t likely see the money, but you never know. Given the lack of prosecutorial backbone in the area, they might walk with some resources left in their pocket,

  12. This whole arrest operation is racist. These people are simply victims of an oppressive government. Afraid of corrupt officials. Seeking a new start in a new land of opportunity. Seeking to make a good life for themselves. There needs to be a federal investigation of oppression and civil rights violation followed by a consent degree so these two law enforcement jurisdictions to not trample on the rights of the poor and oppressed people of our one world.

  13. Just a heads up Barney. KTVZ must have missed this: Oregon Police and Firefighters Sue Governor Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate. Should be news one would think.

    1. They were there before Biden won the election. The former guy let this bunch in.

      Nature (and capitalist economics) abhors a vacuum so where there is demand it will be met with supply. The customers in prohibition states are unlikely to even notice this lost of supply.

      Why was the 21st Amendment enacted ?

  14. I guess it is illegal to grow marijuana on this scale and in this manner, but it is not illegal to be an illegal alien growing weed on illegal grow. Interesting. did the compassionate Sheriffs open their doors to these illegal aliens? Or are they just expecting us to? Have they been provided with free health care yet?Free college?…..asking for a lefty friend of mine

          1. Hey Barney, tomorrow morning when you wake up, or afternoon, since you probably work at home, remember this “it is better to sit at your keyboard, type nothing, and let people think you are stupid, then to start typing and remove all doubt”. You’re just a childish fool doing the work of the idiots progressives, sad, but entertaining none the less

      1. The sanctuary law is BS and should have never seen the light of day….
        Unfortunately we have enough clueless, bleeding heart liberals, and an
        equally ignorant Governor. I really wish that there was a way that Brown
        and every other politician that support and encourage illegal immigration
        could be prosecuted for each case of aiding and abetting these criminals.
        Unfortunately it will never happen, and thanks to the pathetic liberal leaders
        the situation will only continue to worsen.

  15. Sanctuary law WHAT A JOKE.
    Voted in by Portland & the like. And look at what a flippin mess they are in. Stay tuned, Bend aka little Cali….aka little Portland is going to be the same sespool!

  16. This is not just a Central OR problem. There was a bigger mj grow raid in Scotts Valley also. If they get the drones out and look around down in Jackson and Josephine Co I’m sure they’ll find even more. Look deep in the woods in Coos and Currie Co and up the McKenzie into the woods where you just might be stopped by someone with a rifle if you happen to venture too close to a grow.

  17. When is last time 20 American citizens walked away from working at.a massive illlegal grow? And why did it take so long to bust them? The last illegal grow in alfalfa was raided in a few weeks and the warrant was issued on here say from a drug dealer

  18. So claim to be trafficked and operate an illegal grow and you will be released. Why were they not all given court dates for being in this country illegally. Better yet sent back home. This country’s going to hell fast.

  19. Liberals want open boarders so this is what you get. The drug cartel is rampant in Oregon, and has been for sometime. Remember Rico’s Mexican food Market? The owner had been using it to traffic drugs especially meth. Look at this lengthy list. I am sure this problem will continue to get worse considering Oregon is a sanctuary state due to liberals.

    1. “Liberals want to open “boarders?” WTF are you smoking grandpa? Your boy has been in charge for the last 4 years, this issue didn’t just appear in January.

      1. “Liberals want to open “boarders?” WTF are you smoking grandpa? Your boy has been in charge for the last 4 years, this issue didn’t just appear in January.”

        You can try and deny the fact but it’s really pointless when your liberal leaders
        openly support basically eliminating or restructuring our immigration laws.
        Sanctuary cities or states are a prime example. What other country encourages
        and supports criminals that violate their immigration laws ? None….
        Other than the usual liberal hypocrisy, perhaps you can explain why in the past liberals supported stronger border control, and immigration enforcement, but now
        they have done a complete 360 and claim that it is inhumane to restrict immigration.
        Trump tried to regain control of our borders, and reduce illegal immigration,
        unfortunately the liberals decided they would rather play games than have progress
        made while Trump was in office, because they wouldn’t get credit for it.

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