La PINE, Ore. - (Update: Adding mugshots; Onat released on bail)
Two La Pine men were arrested and nearly 2,000 marijuana plants and a “substantial amount” of money were seized Tuesday in a raid by the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team on a property in La Pine, agents said.
Numerous complaints of a suspected illegal marijuana grow prompted the CODE Team and the Central Oregon Emergency Response Team (CERT) to serve a search warrant around 10 a.m. in the 52800 block of Wayside Loop, Lt. Brian Kindel said.
An investigation determined the location had no license to grow recreational or medical marijuana or hemp, the lieutenant said, adding that “it is apparent the operation has been in existence for a few years.”
“The entire property, which included a converted four-car garage, two outbuildings and two metal transport containers, had been retrofitted to house the illicit growing operation, which included self-contained watering units and climate control equipment,” Kindel said in a news release. The packaging of the marijuana was taking place in the home.
More than 1950 marijuana plants were seized, as well as more than 350 pounds of dried marijuana and some BHO (butane honey oil), though Kindel said drug agents found no evidence of a dangerous BHO lab at the property.
They did, however, find evidence the marijuana grow supported a money-laundering operation, including a “substantial amount of currency and a money counter,” along with other evidence Kindel said.
Sam Osman Onat, 51, and Christopher James Fleming, 41, were booked into the Deschutes County Jail on charges of marijuana delivery, manufacture and possession, as well as criminal conspiracy. Onat also was charged with money laundering.
Onat was released from jail Tuesday night after posting 10 percent of his $55,000 bail, while Fleming had been released earlier on his own recognizance, a jail officer said.
Earlier, at the scene, Kindel explained the involvement of the CERT team: "In a large-scale operation like this, where there’s a lot of people on scene, lot of buildings, lot of movement, we need help. So we call the CERT team in to assist us with securing the premises. We don’t mess around with that. We just come in, secure the scene and go from there."
Residents in the area north of Burgess Road and just east of the Deschutes National Forest boundary watched as about 20 vehicles from several agencies arrived to conduct the raid. The team's work at the scene continued into the afternoon.
Neighbor Vivian Taylor said she knew marijuana plants were being grown, but didn't know they were illegal.
"We’ve always thought it was a legal operation," Taylor said. "He’s been growing for a few years now, and he has a big operation going on there. I mean, it may be small compared to others around, but he's got quite a few plants."
Those on scene included Oregon State Police, Bend and Redmond police, Deschuts and Jefferson County sheriff's deputies and BLM law enforcement. One participant was seen wearing a hazardous-materials protective suit.