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Regional Interests

Southern Oregon investigators suspect human trafficking, forced labor at cannabis farm

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 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.”

Investigators are looking into an operation that involves more than 1,300 acres of property and 200 workers. Due to the size of the farm and the scope of the investigation, the Josephine County Sheriffs department was joined by 16 other state and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

These agencies seized ten firearms and $140,000 in cash this week. In addition, officials destroyed 72,283 cannabis plants along with 6,000 pounds of processed cannabis and 373 greenhouses.

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.

The Department of Homeland Security offered victim services to the workers, but they all turned the services down. This could be for various reasons, including fear of their employers and fear of immigration authorities.

No arrests have been made since the raid.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting