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Three-year federal investigation results in arrests, more than $3.4 million in assets subject to forfeiture

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Law Enforcement Against Drugs Task Force (LEAD) and the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Washington this morning announced the culmination of "Operation Green Jam."

A three-year investigation targeted a drug trafficking organization that concealed marijuana growing operations within Yakima Valley vineyards.

Yesterday morning federal agents and state and local officers executed seven federal search warrants and arrested 19 suspects in Yakima County; Grants Pass, Oregon; Union City, California; Manteca, California and Los Angeles, California. Those arrests included residents of Sunnyside.

Sixteen of those arrested were charged by a federal grand jury on June 14 for conspiracy violations involving the manufacture and distribution of marijuana, aiding and abetting, money laundering and structuring financial transactions, in violation of money laundering and controlled substances statutes.

According to authorities, the indictment states members of the conspiracy purchased and leased or assisted in the purchase and leasing of grape vineyards in the Yakima County area since at least 2004, under the auspices of conducting farming operations. Proceeds from the sale of the marijuana were utilized to purchase and finance the operations of additional vineyards for the manufacture and distribution of marijuana.

The United States government filed a financial judgment against the defendants in the sum of $3,462,988, which are drug proceeds. Additionally, forfeiture allegations for several properties have been filed, which include vineyards.

"The success of this investigation is credited to all participating agencies who played a crucial role in the eradication of this drug trafficking organization," said Mark Thomas, DEA acting special agent in charge.

"The diligence of the LEAD Task Force in cooperation with DEA truly made this operation a success," said Sergeant Al Escalera, LEAD Task Force Supervisor.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration and LEAD Task Force. The following agencies provided substantial assistance in the investigation: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; Homeland Security Investigations; Bureau of Indian Affairs; United States Marshal's Service; Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force; Violent Crimes Task Force; Washington Army National Guard Counterdrug Unit; Yakima County Sheriff's Office; Benton County Sheriff's Office; Grandview Police Department; Sunnyside Police Department; Prosser Police Department; Pasco Police Department; Washington State Patrol and the Yakima Police Department.

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