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Sunday, January 23, 2022

Feds Say Human Trafficking Charges Likely for Oregon Marijuana Grow Operation

Photo of people are detained during a raid of an illegal grow in nearby Medford, Oregon, on October 13, 2021. Photo Credit: KDRV News

The following is the direct text of an article by journalist Sophia Prince for Jefferson Public Radio

The Josephine County Sheriff’s department raided a ranch in Southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley this week as part of an investigation into illegal cannabis cultivation, involuntary servitude, human trafficking and forced labor.

The raid was part of a larger investigation that began with the death of a man from a different suspected illegal cannabis farm, located in Cave Junction.

In that case, the man was driven to a Chevron gas station in critical condition and left there. The man later died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Within two days of his death, that Cave Junction farm had been harvested, and the workers had moved to the Illinois Valley ranch raided this week, which goes by the Q Bar X Ranch.

The entrance to Bar X Ranch, in Kerby, Oregon.

The allegation of human trafficking followed multiple 911 hang-up calls that came from the property, as well as information from a source who is remaining anonymous for their own safety. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel said that on these farms, which have the earmarks of a cartel, the workers are often victims.

“We’ve heard of the threat of harm to your family if you don’t go with us,” Daniel said. “And then they are transported up to the location. From what we are understanding, these workers are not paid until the end of the year when the shipment goes out and the money is brought in. There’s not like a weekly payroll going on here.” [...]

Aerial view of part of Bar X Ranch. 

These agencies seized ten firearms and $140,000 in cash this week. [...]

More than 250 law enforcement officers entered the property on Tuesday, they found the workers living in squalid conditions, sleeping on cardboard mats or in tents. Although the workers denied that they had been trafficked, Daniel, the sheriff, suggested that this could be because they were scared to talk.

Additionally, the following is the direct text of an article written by journalist Nick Morgan for the Oregon newspaper The Mail Tribune that was published January 22, 2022.

Homeland Security is working with state and local agencies to investigate a large marijuana grow thought to involve forced labor. So far no federal charges have been filed in an alleged 200-person human-trafficking case in the Illinois Valley [which is located in the state of Oregon] that began with a migrant worker left for dead at a Cave Junction gas station last summer. But a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations employee says he’s confident criminal charges will follow when the investigation is complete.

Robert Hammer, Homeland Security Investigations special agent, speaks about the alleged use of forced labor at illegal marijuana farms in Southern Oregon, during a Zoom press conference Thursday.

Robert Hammer, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ Seattle office, said the feds are looking into evidence of false claims and forced labor surrounding an August 17, 2021 raid on a 1,300-acre suspected illicit marijuana grow at Q Bar X Ranch in Kerby, Oregon. The Seattle office oversees the federal agency’s Pacific Northwest Division.

In a Thursday press conference, via Zoom, Hammer offered few specifics about the agency’s role investigating reports of forced labor and squalid working conditions at the grow site in rural Josephine County allegedly linked to a drug-trafficking organization out of Mexico.

Photo of a police vehicle used during the raid on Q Bar X Ranch, which released 200 workers. Photo Credit: Rogue Valley News

HSI helped interview approximately 200 workers at the site following a raid that drew 17 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies from as far away as Bend, Eugene and Klamath Falls, according to Josephine County Sheriff’s Office reports at the time, and others from out of state, according to Hammer.

“I’m confident that these investigations that are running right now will result in some charges,” Hammer said. “Just because we haven’t seen any federal charges doesn’t mean we haven’t encountered these victims, doesn’t mean that we haven’t provided resources to these victims and protections (in the form of law enforcement assistance visas) to some of these victims.”

Photo of people are detained during a raid of an illegal grow in nearby Medford, Oregon, on October 13, 2021. Photo Credit: KDRV News

The investigation began when a worker was found deceased at a gas station in the Cave Junction area, according to Hammer.

“This one came on our radar as a result of a death of a believed worker,” said Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel, in a KDRV live stream recording of an Aug. 18 press conference about the case.

“What we’re seeing is truly disgusting, people living in shanties, no running water, eating maybe twice a day if they’re lucky,” Daniel later added.

A Homeland Security Investigations spokesperson did not have the identity of the worker found dead. An email message to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office was not returned Friday.

Hammer alluded to the Kerby operation as he described the proliferation of drug trafficking organizations based out of Mexico, China and eastern Europe and a dramatic shift in tactics after decades of growing in Mexico or concealing grows in national forests.

A Josephine County Sheriff's Office Vehicle blocks a bridge over the Illinois River along Finch Road, west of Kerby. Photo Credit: KDRV News

“If I talk about marijuana in Oregon, not a lot of people get excited about marijuana in Oregon,” Hammer said. “But if I talk about Mexican drug cartels or Mexican DTOs moving in to the area abandoning their traditional methodology ... bringing in migrant workers who are being worked literally to death — to the point that they’re being dropped off at local gas stations — the interest level and the desire to get after these individuals that are doing this has increased.”

Hammer said his team is exploring whether workers at remote grows are truly free to go. The migrant workers have no car and no money, because the grow operations don’t pay until harvest.

Many times, the workers don’t speak English and don’t even know the nearest town.

“We have real concerns about the safety of the predominantly migrant workers that are being brought to this community sometimes under the deception that they’re being asked to work on hemp farms,” Hammer said.

The southern Oregon and northern California cannabis growing region that Kerby, within Josephine county, is a part of. (Graphic: Business Wire)

As the demand for labor at unlicensed grows in Southern Oregon draws more migrant workers, Hammer said police are looking at ways to build and strengthen trust with non-government agencies and migrant workers themselves. Homeland Security staff are trying to educate community and outreach nonprofits that visas are available to human trafficking victims, even if they’re undocumented.

“There are protections in place for these folks if they do choose to come forward,” Hammer said.

Hammer encouraged anyone who feels trapped in a trafficking situation to call 911 knowing that Southern Oregon law enforcement agencies are sharing information and are capable of working together.

“One of the largest operations was put together at the Q Bar X Ranch in a very expeditious fashion — mobilizing the resources from state, local and federal and even out-of-state — based upon a simple 911 call,” Hammer said.

Source 1: Sophia Prince for Jefferson Public Radio

Source 2: Nick Morgan for The Mail Tribune


  1. Sadly, I read and submitted a story (not published)awhile back of 2 brothers taken from STockton California (shithole poverty town) under the guise of decent employment. Prior to hiring Mexican "employer" aka DTO gathered info on them and id. Threatened family with illegal family with death/torture.
    Kidnapped and brought to illegal grow in CA. Saw people shot and tortured when unable to work any longer. They were kept chained together, unable to flee. They realized after harvest was over and work complete they were going to be killed after.
    At the end they escaped, spoke English and found help/police. Both had to be in hospital due to malnourishment and extensive injuries.
    The police investigated, aerial surveillance pictures posted etc were in article. Only a couple people captured if I recall correctly.
    Anyone who is interested Google illegal cartel grows found in CA. There are a ton of stories about this. It's often times illegal migrants who have no where to turn once in USA. So much for legalizing it curing everything as taxed legal pot is so much more expensive. Shops by a huge percentage of this pot, thinking it's from a decent source and it's much cheaper...nope. Scary how prevalent this has become yet you have to Google it to realize just how common.
    Have fun going down this sad rabbit hole.

  2. My comment hasn't been posted so I'm not sure of I said a few months ago, but when I googled info on these grows in ca, it was prob last spring 2021 fyi

    1. I regret to inform you, your comment was not in good standing, therefore not published.


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