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Mexican cartels’ reach growing in Northwest

PORTLAND – Mexican drug cartels have infiltrated Oregon, and their reach has extended throughout the Northwest.

At least 69 drug trafficking organizations operate in the state, federal law enforcement sources told The Oregonian.

The sources say cartels control nearly every ounce of heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine flowing into the region.

The violence includes the unsolved 2011 death of a Canby, Ore., man who police believe was killed by a bomb intended for another person connected to a cartel drug case.

Investigators also believe a cartel is behind a 2012 Salem roadside execution, the shooting of two California men found buried near Klamath Falls, Ore., and a 2007 hit in which a trafficker and four friends were lined up on the floor of a Washington state rental home and shot in the head.

“Oregonians,” said John Deits, the assistant U.S. attorney who oversees federal drug prosecutions in Oregon, “are totally naive, totally out of touch with what is happening.”

The Oregonian conducted more than 250 interviews with investigators in six states and reviewed 50,000 pages of documents, including wiretap excerpts and files in open homicide cases.

The newspaper said law enforcement sources cooperated because they’re convinced the public needs to better understand the growing threat the region faces.

Oregon police have taken down drug operations cloaked as a restaurant in Bend, and a grocery in Hillsboro. They’ve busted traffickers in Gresham, Pendleton and, in a takedown last month involving 300 officers, in Klamath County. They’ve intercepted shipments from Oregon traffickers as far away as Texas, Minnesota and Florida.

Police also connected the death of 31-year-old Ivan Velasco Rodriguez, the Canby man, to twin explosions in central Washington, where rigged devices killed two men hours apart in 2008.

Investigators dug into Velasco Rodriguez’s background but quickly concluded he wasn’t the target of the bomb. They also found no disputes or drug activity involving the renter and his family. Then an explosives investigator discovered that the address where the bomb detonated had been listed by a man connected to a major drug case in another state.

That led federal law enforcement officials to suspect the work of a Mexican drug cartel.

Federal investigators looking into a pair of 2008 explosions in Moses Lake also believe that a 69-year-old retired electrician named William Walker was the victim of mistaken identity, when a bomb hidden in a battery charger detonated in his garage, killing him.


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