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Police nab 15 for drug dealing

In a sweep aimed at stopping drug-related crime, Medford police targeted 23 low-level dealers across the Rogue Valley on Thursday, arresting 15 by the end of the day.

Capping off a three-month undercover investigation aimed at ensuring neighborhood safety, seven teams of detectives from the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team spent the day rounding up people accused of selling drugs.

"This will make a difference in the livability of our community," Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen said. "When we arrest dealers we prevent thefts, burglaries and other crimes related to drug abuse."

Starting with complaints from concerned neighbors, police identified suspected dealers, set up surveillance and sent informants to buy a variety of drugs, including prescription painkillers, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, crack cocaine and marijuana. The effort was dubbed "Operation Street Sweeper."

The evidence that officers collected was presented to a grand jury, which indicted 12 women and 11 men. The suspected dealers range in age from 15 to 55 years old.

Officials said the people arrested and those implicated but not yet in custody aren't part of any one organization.

Schoen described most of the suspected dealers as addicts who started distributing drugs to get cash or access to drugs to meet their own needs. Many already have criminal records. Five suspects were found Thursday in jails, court or a probation office.

MADGE handles complaints about drug activity that come from across Jackson County, said Medford police Lt. Tim Doney. The operation tackled dealers in Medford, Phoenix, Talent and Ashland. An informant bought drugs in homes, inside unwitting businesses, in parking lots and on street corners, letting dealers arrange meetings wherever they wanted, Doney said.

The dealers accused in this operation are suspected of selling small amounts of drugs to frequent customers, he explained.

That kind of activity generates nuisance complaints about noise and traffic, but police also identify drugs as a contributing factor in thefts, burglaries and violent crimes.

One suspect, Ronald David Wolgamot, 44, of Medford, was in jail on assault charges linked to a stabbing at a West Main Street recovery home on Saturday.

"They are a menace to our neighborhoods and public safety," Schoen said of the suspects targeted Thursday.

He noted that a city survey this spring of residents' priorities strongly supported funding police and listed safe neighborhoods and parks as the top criteria for quality of life.

Drug offenses are on the rise in the city, police department statistics show. The number of drug offenses climbed 12.9 percent in 2009, compared with 2008. Nearly 900 such crimes were recorded through Aug. 31 of this year, up 28 percent over the similar period the previous year.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen addresses operation Street Sweeper during a press conference concerning recent drug related arrests. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune - Bob Pennell