PORTLAND - Police served nearly two dozen search warrants and arrested 10 people last week in connection with a drug distribution network with tentacles extending into Grant County.

The action came as federal indictments were issued for 14 people in connection with a long-term probe by the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT).

Kent Robinson, acting U.S. Attorney for Oregon, announced the indictments Friday, Oct. 2.

The indictments allege that Carlos Joaquin Barragan, 30, a U.S. citizen and resident of Hermiston, conspired with several others to sell meth and produce and sell marijuana.

Authorities have been investigating a meth organization and a pot-growing conspiracy since April.

That led to an Aug. 19 raid on a pot plantation on national forest land near Dale. Officers from several agencies - including the Grant County Sheriff's Office, Oregon State Police and U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement - seized 23,000 marijuana plants and three guns in that raid. They also arrested four people who had been living and working in the marijuana grow.

The investigation culminated in the execution of search warrants Oct. 1 at three residences outside of Grant County. More firearms, marijuana and marijuana seeds were seized in those raids.

Indicted for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana were Barragan; Sergio Escalera-Garcia, 35, and Ricardo Bravo, 30 of Roosevelt, Wash.

Charged in separate indictments in September were Carmen Ramirez-Romero, 21; Baldemar Garcia-Mendoza, 24; Efrain Garcia-Mendoza, 25, all of Fife, Wash., and Jose Luis Escalera-Garcia, 23 of Roosevelt.

Ramirez-Romero, Baldemar Garcia -Mendoza and Jose Luis-Escalera also were indicted for possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

Conviction of conspiracy to manufacture more than 1,000 marijuana plants carries a maximum sentence of life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 10 years, and a fine of $4 million. Conviction on the firearm charge carries a mandatory consecutive 60-month prison sentence.

Police also served warrants Oct. 1 in connection with the meth case, searching 10 residences. Detectives seized more than six ounces of meth, a dozen firearms, scales, drug paraphernalia, drug records and cell phones related to the investigation.

Barragan and seven others were charged with conspiracy to distribute more than five grams of meth.

Arraigned Oct. 2 in federal court in Portland, in addition to Barragan, were: John Knight, 63, La Grande; Marietta Gallagher, 59, Irrigon; Matilda Williams, 349, Hermiston; and Rogelio Chavez, 29, Hermiston. Pedro Soto-Contreras, 23, of Pasco, Wash., appeared in court in Yakima, Wash.

Shane Soros, 42, and Guillermo Morfin Ortiz, 47, also of Hermiston, were scheduled to appear in court early this week.

The meth charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a fine of $2 million.

The defendants who have appeared so far have pleaded not guilty, and a trial is set for Dec. 8 before U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Jones. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer J. Martina and Suzanne Bratis are the prosecuting attorneys.

The case grew out of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force-sponsored effort that involved local, federal and state agencies in two states.

"This case demonstrates a great cooperative working relationship between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the U.S. Attorneys' Offices, the Oregon Department of Justice, and the Umatilla and Grant County District Attorney's offices," Robinson said.

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