Leaders of Major Drug Trafficking Ring Face Federal Charges
Federal officials, together with the Idaho State Police, the Douglas County, Oregon, Interagency Narcotics Team and the Oregon Department of Justice said today they have broken up a major marijuana and cocaine trafficking ring and arrested its organizers. The ring is alleged to have operated throughout the United States, importing drugs from South America and Mexico and growing large quantities of marijuana both indoors and on public lands. The organization is alleged to have reaped more than $20 million in drug proceeds over a 30 year period.
Eleven men, described in a 196-page federal indictment as key players in the ring, were arrested today in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Idaho. A twelfth man remains a fugitive. The indictment was handed down by a grand jury in Boise, Idaho, in June, but was kept under seal pending today’s arrests. The arrests were made by agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the U.S. Marshals Service, assisted by various state, county and city law enforcement agencies.
The indictment seeks forfeiture of more than $24 million in proceeds from drug trafficking, including $20 million in cash, a variety of business interests, airplanes, boats, vehicles, and real property in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Hawaii and Colorado.
“After more than 30 years of operating a suspected criminal enterprise, the members of this drug trafficking organization will finally be brought to justice,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Rodney Benson. “This multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional investigation not only sought to dismantle a significant poly-drug trafficking organization but it also focused on removing the assets illegally obtained. This focus on seizing both the drugs and assets sends a clear message to traffickers that they will pay for their illegal activities and that they will not profit from their actions.”
Arrested today were Kent Allen Jones, 51, of Vancouver, Washington; Gregory Frank Sperow, 55, currently an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution Terminal Island in San Pedro, California; Mark Daniel Kitzman; 49, of Lake Oswego, Oregon; Harold Carl Ballenger, 54, of Bend, Oregon; Dennis Bruce Hammons, 59, of Medford, Oregon, an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon; Jerod Lee Keyser, 31, of Priest River, Idaho; John Marsh, 37, of Portland, Oregon; Mark William Pursley, 32, of Vancouver, Washington; and Dale Eugene Barker, 55, of Evergreen, Colorado. Gerald Francis McDonald, 55, of Costa Mesa, California, is a fugitive.
According to the indictment, the ring had its origins in a group of high school friends from Roseburg, Oregon, with other friends and family members added over the years. The group’s early activities centered around growing and selling marijuana, but they later expanded to include smuggling large quantities of drugs from Mexico and South America, smuggling and selling cocaine, and manufacturing methamphetamine. All told, the ring is alleged to have sold thousands of tons of drugs over the years to buyers as far away as New York, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.
In addition to various drug distribution and money laundering charges, six of the men – Jones Sperow, Kitzman, McDonald, Ballenger and Hammons – are charged with operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. That charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years in prison, and requires proof that the defendants organized, supervised or managed at least five other people in a conspiracy to violate federal law on multiple occasions, and that they derived substantial income from the enterprise.
The Idaho resident, Jerod Keyser, is a mortgage broker from the Priest River area. He is charged with money laundering involving his company, Infinity Finance, and its loans to Jones and others to buy property used in their drug business.
The case is being handled by the District of Idaho because it stemmed from the case of a major drug trafficker, Leland Lang of Clearwater, Idaho, who was successfully prosecuted in Idaho several years ago. According to the indictment, the Jones organization supplied Lang with large quantities of drugs.
The properties the indictment seeks to forfeit are located in Priest River, Idaho; Portland, Eugene, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Bend, Hillsboro and Lakeside, Oregon; Vancouver, Washington; Los Angeles, Adelaide, Newbury Park, Lancaster, Canoga Park and Mendocino, County, California; Evergreen and Pine, Colorado; and Kihei and Kahuka, Hawaii.
“This is a classic case of ‘follow the money,’” said U.S. Attorney Tom Moss. “Lee Lang was a major distributor, and he was getting his drugs from somewhere. We wanted to find out where, and now – thanks to the hard work and dedication of more than a dozen law enforcement agencies – I believe we have.”
“IRS Criminal Investigation is very pleased to assist our law enforcement partners in combating crimes that are motivated by greed, which includes narcotics trafficking,” said Nick Henley, the acting IRS Special Agent in Charge for Idaho. “We do so through our experience in conducting financial investigations and by helping to take away the profit motive through asset forfeiture.”
Agencies involved in the investigation and arrests include the DEA, IRS, Douglas County Interagency Narcotics Team, Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon State Police, Westside Interagency Narcotics Team, Pacific Northwest Fugitive Task Force and Southwest Washington Regional SWAT Team.
An indictment is a means of charging a person with criminal activity. It is not evidence. The person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.