2000 drug raid nets 28 convictions
By Dani Dodge
Federal and state prosecutors have convicted and sentenced 28 people who were arrested last year after authorities cracked down on two major Jackson County drug rings.
"On March 8 (2000) over 30 search warrants were served," said Sean Hoar, an assistant U.S. attorney working out of Eugene. "Since that time, 15 people have pled guilty in the federal system, and 13 in Jackson County Court."
Those sentenced in federal court - mostly people involved in the distribution ring - are serving sentences ranging from 37 months to 10 years in prison. Those sentenced in Jackson County Court - mostly street-level dealers and people in possession of drugs - got lesser sentences, with the average being about 18 months on probation, according to Deputy District Attorney Judi Harper.
Hoar said among those arrested on federal charges, only one hasn't already pled guilty: Emilio Rangel Cortes, 33, of Medford. He is scheduled for trial May 16 on charges of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine, illegal re-entry into the United States, possession of a false alien registration receipt card (green card) and possession of false Social Security card.
Several state prosecutions are still pending, according to Harper.
The drug bust disrupted two major drug rings in the Rogue Valley, authorities said. One was the major supplier of heroin into the area, and the other was the supply chain for a hefty portion of the methamphetamine.
Hoar said the investigation revealed that family-based crime organizations in Mexico were funneling illegal aliens into the Medford area to set up the drug ring. Most of those arrested in the March 8 bust on federal charges were actually brought into the United States by the same "coyote," a person whose occupation is to help illegal aliens cross the border.
"What happens in a drug ring is a family sends a brother or cousin to one part of the U.S.," Hoar said. "They set up a distribution point there and then move on to other places."
"All of a sudden, all along the I-5 corridor you have brothers and uncles and cousins all working together with drop-off points. It becomes very sophisticated."
Most of the people who set up the heroin ring here came from Michoacan, Mexico, Hoar said. Once the people got to the Medford area they were able to get bogus green cards and Social Security numbers through local crime networks.
"Everyone who was here illegally had false alien registration receipt cards (green cards) and many had false Social Security numbers," Hoar said. "It was a very professional operation."
Hoar said FBI agents and local police put together such a good case using informants, wire taps on phones and video surveillance that the defendants pleaded guilty after realizing that they couldn't win in court.
"(Law enforcement officers) worked diligently and methodically and put together evidence that overwhelmingly established the guilt of these individuals," Hoar said. "A number of individuals were caught on audio- and videotape distributing heroin and methamphetamine - after they see that they realize they have no alternative than to plead guilty."
After serving their prison and jail sentences, all defendants who illegally entered the United States will be deported to Mexico. Many of those prosecuted in state court were U.S. citizens.
Harper and Deputy District Attorney Matt McCauley said the bust did have a big impact on heroin availability in Jackson County.
"We used to get a heroin case a week and I haven't seen one for several months," McCauley said. "On the street level we definitely saw a decrease."
Hoar said he knows, though, that the effect of the busts was probably only temporary.
"We caused some disruption in the channels," he said. "But ultimately someone comes in and fills the void."