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MADGE anticipates record year for meth seizures

It's only February, but the Medford Area Drug & Gang Enforcement task force already has seized as much methamphetamine in 2020 as it did for all of 2019.

Last year the agency seized 68 pounds of meth, according to Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, and MADGE has already tied that amount in 2020, thanks to multiple arrests this past week and a 5.6-pound seizure two weeks ago that the agency reported Friday.

On Thursday, Feb. 6, MADGE learned that San Diego residents Martin Jesus Velasco, 37, and Jhony Afredo Martines, 25, were driving into the area. Police suspected both men were transporting meth. Police spotted their vehicle, a rented 2020 Toyota Sienna mini van, driving northbound on Interstate 5 and pulled it over near milepost 13. The men reportedly denied consent for police to search their vehicle, so officers obtained a search warrant, a probable cause affidavit says.

During the search, police located five "cellophaned bundles" of a crystal substance in the vehicle's back hatch area, each weighing about a pound, the affidavit says. The substance tested positive for meth. Both men have been indicted on charges of unlawful delivery and unlawful possession of methamphetamine, according to court records. They remained lodged Friday in the Jackson County Jail on $500,000 bail, jail records show. Their next court appearance is scheduled for March 2.

Three other meth-related arrests were reported this week, all on or near I-5 near Ashland. On Sunday, Feb. 16, MADGE arrested Christian Olivarria-Aguirre, 36, and Jacqueline Castillo-Gutierrez, 35, of Compton, California, after finding more than 20 pounds of methamphetamine in their SUV. The vehicle was parked at the Ashland Chevron, a stone's throw from the freeway's exit 14.

On Tuesday, the agency arrested 59-year-old Ernesto Vela on I-5 near milepost 12 after discovering 10 pounds of meth hidden in his bumper.

"It's certainly a little bit of luck that they all fell at basically the same time," Budreau said. "The investigations kind of came to a point where we were able to identify the suspects, get solid information on who they are, what they were driving, and get them stopped. They're all very similar cases — they're all out of California, we're stopping them right as they enter Oregon, and getting the drugs."

Budreau said he anticipates more arrests soon.

"We also believe it will probably be a record year," he said.

In 2012, MADGE seized 101 pounds of the drug, the most for the years 2010-2019, according to data provided by Budreau. 2016 was a close second with 100 pounds seized.

MADGE received help from the Drug Enforcement Agency in the Feb 6 case. The DEA issued a release Thursday on a new initiative focusing on eight cities across the country that DEA considers hubs "where methamphetamine is often trafficked in bulk and then distributed across the country," the release says. The cities include Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix, Arizona and St. Louis. DEA field divisions in those cities accounted for more than 75% of U.S. meth seizures in 2019.

The bulk of MADGE cases are investigated independently, sometimes with help from the Rogue Area Drug Enforcement team or Oregon State Police, Budreau said.

"It's much more localized, but every now and then DEA does help MADGE out with cases, but I wouldn't say it is common," Budreau said. "But this one was, in fact, a DEA assist."

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Jhony Martines
Martin Velasco