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Pot plants eradicated from federal forest

A California man has been detained and nearly 2,500 marijuana plants were eradicated from a grow site on federal forest land near the Jackson-Josephine county line.

The Oregon State Police Marijuana Eradication Team collected 2,447 plants Tuesday from a Josephine County site in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest near Thompson Creek Road, about 14 miles from Applegate, according to an affidavit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Medford.

Erik Almonte Mondragon, 37, of Watsonville, Calif., was arrested Monday afternoon by an OSP Special Weapons and Tactics team at a camp set up near the grow site.

An investigation began last week when a helicopter pilot working for Brim Aviation alerted Oregon State Police to the grow site and provided detectives with GPS coordinates, the affidavit says. The pilot reportedly has experience spotting marijuana going back to 2007.

On Monday afternoon, SWAT used the GPS coordinates for what was meant to be a reconnaissance of the site; however, Mondragon spotted two troopers and attempted to flee from a kitchen area at the camp, an affidavit says. He was captured at 3:09 p.m. on Thompson Creek Road, according to Josephine County jail records.

Mondragon told a Spanish-speaking Homeland Security Investigations agent that he was transported to the camp by an unknown individual, and had been working at the site for four months, according to the affidavit.

Mondragon allegedly told investigators he would be paid $150 per day for his work, which involved watering the plants every 3-4 hours and applying fertilizer and chemicals to repel animals from the plants, but he had not yet received any money. Someone would restock the camp with supplies every 22 days, the affidavit says.

A second sleeping bag was found at the site. Mondragon said he worked with another man he only knew as Sergio, but the man fled the scene shortly after the helicopter flew over Aug. 10.

On Tuesday, investigators found a water catchment system and irrigation tubing used to water the plants. The camp's kitchen had been excavated into a hillside, and investigators found clothing, cooking stoves, propane tanks and a large quantity of food.

Mondragon was arrested in 2014 for Unlawful Cultivation of Marijuana, under the similar name Erik Almonte Mondrago, in Santa Rosa, Calif., the affidavit says.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Erik Almonte Mondragon