PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Four people have been arrested after authorities concluded an 18-month investigation on Wednesday involving an alleged illicit marijuana grow in Bend, Oregon.

Around 7 a.m. Wednesday, authorities executed search warrants at the 22610 Nelson Road and 64935 Half Mile Lane locations. During the search, law enforcement seized 6,868 plants worth an estimated $3.5 million.

The investigation began after community complaints about the Nelson Road site in unincorporated Bend. Investigators later found the Half Mile Lane site in an unincorporated area in Tumalo, east of Bend, according to Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE).

“Most of the Mexican-national laborers contacted by detectives were trafficked into the United States and promised $20 per day to tend the grow sites. At the Nelson Rd. address, the laborers lived in squalor. They used outdoor toilets and prepared their food in a primitive outdoor kitchen,” CODE said.

Investigators found that the Nelson Road site also alternated using underground well water and diverted irrigation canal water — noting that illegal grows often use pesticides, which can endanger the residential water supply.

During the search at the Half Mile Lane location, Bend Police K-9 Kim found 46-year-old Jose Cuevas-Garcia of Michoacan, Mexico, hiding in a closet, according to CODE. Authorities said Cuevas-Garcia and Kim fought – injuring the K-9’s snout.

Before he was lodged at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Jail, Cuevas-Garcia was treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a hospital. He was charged with unlawful manufacturing of marijuana and interfering with a law enforcement animal. Officials noted Kim was treated for her injuries and is resting comfortably.

In addition to Cuevas-Garcia’s arrest, three others were arrested at the sites and lodged at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Jail. Authorities arrested the following for unlawful manufacturing of marijuana:

  • 62-year-old Darin Joseph Niemeyer, of Bend, Oregon, who CODE identified as an alleged leader of the organization. He also owns the Half Mile Lane site.
  • 40-year-old Jose Andres Mendoza-Lizarda, of Pasco, Washington.
  • 25-year-old Felipe Chavez-Arreguin, of Michoacan, Mexico.

All four were released per Senate Bill 48, which went into effect July 1, 2022.

According to CODE, four laborers were also detained, interviewed and later released by authorities.

Meanwhile, 31-year-old Luis Vaca-Rodriguez, who has been identified as a person of interest, has not been found by police. Vaca-Rodriguez is associated with addresses in Pasco, Washington and Cincinnati, Ohio. Detectives ask anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact the Deschutes County Illegal Marijuana Enforcement team and reference case number 22-38700.