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Police release details on heroin ring arrests

Six more people face felony drug charges for their alleged roles in a heroin distribution ring that investigators say ran more than $2 million worth of the powerful narcotic into Southern Oregon through Medford since January 2008.

All were high-level associates in the local operation led by a pair of drug-dealing cousins with ties to a violent Southern California gang, authorities said Monday.

The cousins and their associates were among 23 alleged drug traffickers taken down last month by a nearly two-year investigation called Operation Goat Rope, which used informants and federal wiretaps to target what turned out to be a large heroin-trafficking organization centered in Medford since at least the middle of 2007, authorities said.

"The slang term for heroin is 'goat' and this is the rope that wrapped it up," Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said Monday.

It culminated Oct. 4 with the arrests of 23 people in and around Medford during a raid that involved 160 law-enforcement officials, removing what police said was an organization that accounted for about half the heroin circulating in Medford.

In a new federal indictment unsealed Monday and released in Medford by Oregon's Acting U.S. Attorney Kent Robinson, the alleged leaders were identified as Ismael "Chivo" Anaya, 27, of Medford, and Eliot "Alex" Delavirgen, 33, of White City.

Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said Anaya and Delavirgen were members or associates of La Colonia Chiques, a large gang so steeped in crime that the Ventura County city of Oxnard has a civil injunction against all its members.

Also charged Monday in the federal indictment were Medford residents Shannon Christopher Harrop, 20, Jerret Hooey, 21, Judith "Jodi" Potteiger, 28, Ronald Coutee, 54, and Erica Lapizco, 31. Also indicted was Anthony Albert, 46, of Gold Hill.

All but Potteiger were arraigned this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Medford on federal drug conspiracy and other charges that carry mandatory minimums of 10 years in federal prison.

Potteiger will be arraigned at a later date, authorities said.

Delavirgen and Anaya were arraigned earlier on federal charges in October, but named in the new indictment that supersedes the original one, records show.

All eight defendants remain in the Jackson County Jail, police said.

Another 15 defendants arrested during the Oct. 4 sweep face state charges that tend to result in lesser penalties upon conviction than federal charges.

Robinson said federal charges were filed against the eight defendants in the case because they were "the higher-ranking " members here.

The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $840,000 that Robinson said were the known proceeds from the sale of heroin as well as vehicles and firearms seized in the case.

Agents seized less than $15,000 cash during the raids, but the judgment would make available future money discovered as part of the operation, Robinson said.

Federal authorities claim the group each month funneled about 2 pounds of heroin worth more than $100,000 here.

The suspects allegedly bought the heroin in bulk from sources elsewhere in Oregon as well as California and Mexico, then broke it down into 25-gram "piece" sizes for distribution.

The indictment alleges that Anaya was the head of the organization, but last June Anaya was taped in a wiretap telling Delavirgen that Delavirgen temporarily had to oversee the operation.

An Oregon State Police trooper on June 3 stopped Anaya driving a vehicle that contained about $13,000 in cash identified as proceeds from heroin sales, the indictment states.

Anaya was taped telling Delavirgen the transfer of leadership was because of that traffic stop, the indictment states.

The heroin distributed by this network was a smokable form of the narcotic now growing more popular among "new-wave addicts" because it does not need to be injected, George said.

"People think of heroin addicts as junkies in the alley with needles, and that's not the case," George said. "They are middle-age people and even kids smoking this stuff. That's the craze."

Known heroin use has more than tripled here in the past three years, even outstripping a statewide trend in which heroin cases doubled during the same period, Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston said Monday.

Moving the defendants through federal court "will send a message that big-time drug dealers are looking at big-time consequences," Huddleston said.

Medford police Chief Randy Schoen said Medford's population of about 80,000 residents swells to a city of about 110,000 people during the day, and that about 35 percent of crimes in Medford are committed by nonresident "frequent fliers."

About 80 percent of Medford's crime has a drug angle to it, Schoen said.

"Southern Oregon will not become a safe haven for drug-trafficking operations," Schoen said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.