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Illegal Marijuana Farm Under Investigation for Involuntary Servitude, Human Trafficking

Andre Taissin

Yesterday, the Josephine County Sheriff's department raided a ranch in the Illinois valley that is being investigated on charges of illegal marijuana cultivation, involuntary servitude, human trafficking and forced labor.

This raid is part of a larger investigation that began with the death of a man from a different illegal marijuana farm, located on Martin Road in Cave Junction. The man had been driven to the Chevron gas station in Cave Junction 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 Martin Road farm had been harvested, and the workers moved to this ranch, called the Q Bar X Ranch, in the Illinois Valley.

The allegation of human trafficking followed multiple 911 hangup calls that came from the property, as well as a source who is remaining anonymous for their own safety. Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel says 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”, says Daniel. “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.”

The operation included over 1,300 acres of property as well as 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.

At the conclusion of the operation, 10 firearms and $140,000 in cash were seized. In addition, 72,283 marijuana plants were destroyed along with 6,000 pounds of processed marijuana and 373 greenhouses.

When the over 250 law enforcement officers entered the property, they found the workers living in squalid conditions, sleeping on cardboard mats or in tents. Although the workers denied that they had been trafficked, Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel suggests that this could be because they are scared to talk.

The Department of Homeland Security did offer 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 but there are several persons of interest.

Sophia Prince is a reporter and producer for JPR News. She began as JPR’s 2021 summer intern through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a BA in journalism and international studies.