A former Coos County Sheriff's Office deputy is among those taken into custody in the Drug Enforcement Administration's "Operation Black Ice," last week's methamphetamine arrest sweep spanning Coos and Douglas counties.
Damon Yanes, 35, of North Bend, who had worked as a jailer for the Sheriff's Department, was arrested in the sweep that ended an 18-month investigation.
According to federal court documents, during the investigation leading up to the sting, agents conducted "controlled buy" situations in which the suspect sold more than 2 ounces of suspected methamphetamine to undercover DEA officials and confidential informants in parking lots including those of Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart in Coos Bay; and Bi-Mart and Pony Village Mall in North Bend. (See box, Page A8.)
Information was obtained by the paid confidential sources who were "authorized funds for the purposes of purchasing evidence from a suspect," the federal affidavit said.
The recently unsealed federal documents charge that while under audio surveillance, the suspect sold suspected meth and suspected crystal meth, a purer form, to the informants or agents themselves on three occasions.
While awaiting U.S. District Court proceedings, Yanes was being held without bail at the Lane County jail in Eugene on a charge of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine.
Yanes was arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court and released on his own recognizance from the Lane County jail.
Court documents said based on information provided by the South Coast Interagency Narcotics Team, the suspect began distributing meth after leaving his job with the Sheriff's Office in June of 2003.
Yanes was convicted in Coos County Circuit Court of manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance in January and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Sheriff Andy Jackson said during his time working with Yanes, both as a superior and as a fellow jailer, he did not suspect federal charges such as those filed last week would be brought against the former deputy.
Jackson worked at the jail with Yanes from 1993 to 1998, but said he knew Yanes only vaguely as a colleague.
"We didn't have any noticeable problems with him," Jackson said. "He followed procedure, he followed orders."
The rigged drug sales - resulting in 11 warrant searches and at least 14 arrests - went on continuously during the 18-month investigation and agents maintained their assumed identities by contacting some of the suspects on multiple occasions to rectify transactions.
Except for one, spokesmen from all of the businesses mentioned in the affidavits as sites for undercover surveillance declined to say if they knew of the parking lot drug transactions. Store managers and corporate press officials cited a policy not to discuss law enforcement matters.
Ken Stocker, store manager at McKay's Market in Empire, said he was not aware of the operation, but lauded the federal officials involved.
"I'm not upset about it at all," Stocker said. "I would prefer to see a presence out there. It just decreases the number of problems I have in the store."
Stocker believes the more police activity in Empire, the better.
"There's a lot of alcohol-related problems in this area and shoplifting is one of the typical things you deal with," Stocker said. "The more (police) are around, the less you see of that."
Stocker said he could not determine the level, if any, of methamphetamine activity in the area, but added he feels Oregon as a whole might have a problem with meth.
"Obviously, with some of the things that the state is implementing with the pseudoephedrine, obviously that means there's a problem in the state," Stocker said.
According to the affidavits, on the South Coast, the controlled buy procedures involved a total exchange of $70,000 and 5 pounds of meth with varying purity. The 11 raids yielded 9 pounds of methamphetamine, $3,000 and seven firearms.
The busts took place as far away as Roseburg and in Myrtle Creek, where the Plaza Palenque restaurant, now reportedly closed, was described in search warrant requests as a front to legitimize meth sales revenue. After a raid on the business, the owner, Israel Gonzalez-Robles, 25, was jailed on possession and conspiracy charges.
Members of the same family were arrested by agents who described a similar business facade as the two Cuahutemoc Mexican restaurants in Myrtle Point and Coquille.
The businesses belong to the Myrtle Creek restaurant owner's brother, Coquille resident Martin Gonzalez-Robles, 39, who was released on his own recognizance Wednesday from the Lane County jail, where he was being held on possession and conspiracy charges.
Jeff Eig, public affairs officer for the DEA, refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding Martin Gonzalez-Robles' release.
A nephew of both brothers, Sergio Reyes-Gonzalez, 20, was arrested on identical charges.
Residents and employees of neighboring restaurants reported seeing the DEA operation last week. According to restaurant staff, both Cuahutemoc locations are open for business.
A press release from the DEA last week said agents believe significant amounts of meth were brought to the South Coast from the Southwestern United States and networked throughout the state.