Central Oregon Drug Enforcement announced the conclusion of an 18-month investigation into an illicit marijuana grow and processing operation in Bend. It included warrants served at two Bend addresses on Wednesday.
The following is a press release from CODE:
On Wednesday, July 6th, 2022, detectives with the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team and the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team concluded an eighteen-month investigation involving a drug organization that is alleged to be growing and processing illicit marijuana in Bend, Oregon, before delivering around the pacific northwest.
This case began with community complaints and tips about one of the organization’s grow locations on Nelson Rd in the unincorporated area of Bend, Oregon. As a result, the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team began investigating and discovered a second grow site in the unincorporated area of Tumalo, east of Bend, Oregon.
The Deschutes County Illicit Marijuana Enforcement Team requested the assistance of the Central Oregon Drug Team to further their investigation. As a result, over the next year, CODE and DCIME detectives, special agents, and intelligence analysts conducted many hours of physical and electronic surveillance of the organization’s two properties around the pacific northwest. Since these are outdoor grows, the sites were dormant during winter and resumed in spring.
Detectives determined the organizational structure and identified the leadership. Darin Niemeyer, age 62, of Bend, Oregon, is alleged to be one of the leaders in this criminal organization. Mr. Niemeyer owns the Half Mile Ln location.
Additionally, Luis Vaca-Rodriguez, age 31, has been identified as a person of interest and is still outstanding. Mr. Vaca-Rodriguez is associated with addresses in Pasco, Washington and Cincinnati, Ohio. Therefore, DCIME Detectives are asking the public to contact the DCIME team with any information regarding the whereabouts of Mr. Vaca-Rodriguez. Reference Case No 22-38700 when calling.
On July 6th, 2022 at approximately 7:00 AM, CODE and DCIME detectives, with the assistance of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team and the Central Oregon Emergency Response Team (CERT) executed two Search Warrants at:
- 22610 Nelson Rd. Bend, OR
- 64935 Half Mile Ln. Bend, OR
During the search warrant, 6,868 plants were seized. The estimated street value of this black-market marijuana is $3.5mil.
Most of the Mexican-national laborers contacted by detectives were trafficked into the United States and promised $20 per day to tend the grow sites. At the Nelson Rd address, the laborers lived in squalor. They used outdoor toilets and prepared their food in a primitive outdoor kitchen.
During the search warrant execution on Half Mile Ln, Jose Cuevas-Garcia, age 46 of Michoacan, Mexico, was hiding in a closet. Bend Police K-9, “Kim”, was deployed to search the home when she discovered Mr. Cuevas-Garcia. Mr. Cuevas-Garcia fought with K-9 “Kim” and injured her snout during the struggle. Regardless of her injuries, “Kim” continued to assist Mr. Cuevas-Garcia out of the closet where Officers arrested him. “Kim” was later treated for her injuries and is resting comfortably. Mr. Cuevas-Garcia was transported to St Charles Health System – Bend for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries before being lodged at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Jail.
The possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal for recreational use in Oregon. However, large, unlicensed marijuana operations remain illegal. Due to these unregulated operations, they pose dangers to the public and the environment.
These commercial grown operations were located in rural agricultural areas of Deschutes County. Most of this area’s residents depend on the ground or well water for their households and own agricultural ventures. In March 2022, Governor Brown declared Deschutes County to be in extreme drought conditions and struggling with consistent groundwater sources.
Investigators have found illegal marijuana grows diverted or stolen significant water from nearby homes, commercial farms, or directly from pumps connected to underground sources in the arid central Oregon high desert. For example, the Nelson Rd grow site alternated between underground well water and diverted irrigation canal water while maintaining a complex watering system that supplied marijuana production. Additionally, Illegal marijuana farms often use pesticides and insecticides that threaten residential water supplies and endanger the end user.
Four laborers were detained, identified, interviewed, and later released by Detectives. The laborers will not be identified as time. Other people found at the grow locations were determined to be NOT associated and released without charges. The laborers refused social services and assistance.
Four people were arrested at the scenes and later lodged at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Jail. The following people have been charged with the Unlawful Manufacturing of Marijuana. In addition to this charge, Jose Cuevas-Garcia was also charged with Interfering with a Law Enforcement Animal (ORS 167.337).
- Darin Joseph Niemeyer, age 62, of Bend, Oregon
- Jose Andres Mendoza-Lizarda, age 40, of Pasco, Washington
- Felipe Chavez-Arreguin, age 25 of Michoacan, Mexico
- Jose Cuevas-Garcia, age 46 of Michoacan, Mexico
All four of these people were later released per Senate Bill 48, that became effective July 1st, 2022. This new law made significant changes in Oregon’s process for determining whether and how arrested individuals can be released from jail before their first court hearing or trial, with a new system focusing on their danger to the community. The release criteria are determined by the courts and not law enforcement or jail staff.
The Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement (DCIME) program is a partnership between the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, the Bend Police Department, and the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office to address illegal marijuana activity in Deschutes County.
CODE and DCIME were assisted by the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Street Crime Unit, Crook County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police with the investigation, eradication, and dismantling of these sites.