Eight people suspected of being involved in a massive marijuana-growing operation west of Selma are lodged in the Josephine County Jail on drug charges.
"We're not just out pulling weeds," Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson said. "We are looking for prosecutions."
A multi-day eradication effort by the Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation team, also known as SOMMER, removed more than 40,000 pot plants estimated to be worth as much as $120 million.
While that effort attracted media attention, investigators also moved to arrest suspected growers found in the forest.
At about 2 a.m. on Aug. 23, Josephine County sheriff's detectives stopped a vehicle with five Hispanic men in it on Forest Road 4105, which wends into the hills above the Sixmile recreation site toward the roughly 5-acre marijuana garden.
Four of the men inside the vehicle wore camouflage clothing, documents filed in Josephine County Circuit Court say.
The driver, David Barragan-Salazar, 37, of Vancouver, Wash., told investigators that he was paid $500 to take men to the growing operation in the forest. All are suspected of being in the country illegally.
The vehicle carried what officers described as equipment commonly found in the growing operations of drug-trafficking organizations, court documents state.
Officers also found two firearms under the front seat. Although the weapons, which weren't described in the affidavits filed in court, were hidden, they were accessible by anyone in the vehicle, investigators said in their reports.
Affidavits note that aerial surveillance had seen large numbers of plants in the hills during the previous week.
The other men arrested during the stop were Moises Garcia-Zuniga, 30, of Riverside, Calif.; Ricardo Cardenas-Madriz, 25, of Sacramento, Calif.; Constantino Chipres-Zamora, 28, no address listed; and Pedro Alvarez-Gutierrez, 36, no address listed. Each man was charged with possession, delivery and manufacture of marijuana, as well as illegal possession of a concealed firearm. Each is suspected of being in the country illegally and is being held without bail on the immigration charge.
They were arraigned in Josephine County Circuit Court on Aug. 24.
The charging documents filed in court allege that the men were involved in "commercial drug offenses" because they had at least 150 grams of marijuana, possessed weapons and made modifications to public land to facilitate their drug production and distribution.
On Saturday, investigators arrested two more people linked with the operation: Salvador Solorio-Barragan, 46, of Del Hay, Calif.; and Deysy Vargas, 21 of Penair, Calif. Both are held without bail on charges of possession, delivery and manufacture of marijuana, as well as suspicion of being in the country illegally. They were arraigned Monday.
Another man, Noe Rosales-Farias, 36, no address listed, was arrested on Tuesday. He faces the same drug and immigration charges, jail records show.
"The only way to get the cartels is to prosecute them," Gilbertson said.
He said that investigators strive to work their way up through the cartel organization, but they will crack down on everyone linked to the operation. Although state courts are handling the cases now, Gilbertson would like to see federal authorities take over prosecution because the growing operation was on federal land and is suspected to be part of a sizable international drug-trafficking organization.
Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail email@example.com.