Secret cameras, Google Earth, $200 a day jobs & lots of marijuana
WESTFIR, Ore. - The series of events that took down a multi-million dollar marijuana farm on public land in the Cascade Mountains started August 15, when a USDA Forest Service employee discovered what appeared to be marijuana growing in the woods, according to court documents filed in the case.
Sixteen people face charges in the case, which took down an estimated $30 million to $40 million worth of illegal marijuana.
Some of the men told authorities they were paid $150 to $200 per day to work on the marijuana farms, according to the probable cause affidavits filed in federal court.
The documents detail how the investigation proceeded from August 15 until August 25, when the sheriff's department took media to the site as officer yanked thousands of pot plants from the ground.
The investigation took several days.
Sheriff's deputies mounted a camera near a possible resupply point for the camps August 17, two days after the Forest Service employee took photos of the possible grow operation.
A search of Google Earth on August 20 turned up satellite images from July 2013 that showed what appeared to be crops planted in a row in the middle of the Willamette National Forest.
A deputy reviewed the secret camera footage August 21. The video shows a Volvo station wagon pull up just before 2 a.m. Two men get out of the car as 6 others emerge from the woods.
Later that day, a DEA helicopter flew over the area but was unable to identify anything from the air.
Deputies set up surveillance on the drop site that night. The Volvo returned around 1 a.m., along with a Honda Accord. Both cars were registered to Silvano Hernandez Torres of Salem, according to the sworm affidavits.
The cars picked up 5 men who came out of the woods and drove them back to the Motel 6 on Glenwood Drive in Eugene. The driver of the Honda and the 5 men went into one of the rooms.
A deputy made contact with the men in the room, who admitted to being in the country illegally - and all had varying explanations for what they were doing in Oregon, according to the affidavit.
Over the next few days, police rounded up people associated with the cars and the grow sites as other law enforcement officers surveyed the grow sites.
The officers who filed the sworn statements with federal court said the operation they observed and the evidence they seized is consistent with a drug trafficking organization.
By Sunday, August 25, the Lane County Sheriff's Office was ready to bring media on a tour of the remote marijuana farm in the Huckleberry Flats area north of Westfir.