Operation Wildfire

The Pendleton Convention Center served as a command and processing center for Operation Wildfire, a significant BENT drug bust that seized large amounts of drugs and involved at least 65 arrests.

The Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team arrested more the five dozen suspects to take down drug trafficking organizations Wednesday in Operation Wildfire.

Pendleton police Chief Stuart Roberts, head of local anti-drug team’s board, said the goal was to dismantle drug dealing operations in Umatilla, Morrow, Union, and Gilliam counties.

“The reason this is called Wildfire is because it just took off,” he said, “took off like a wildfire.”

BENT usually works its way up the chain of command in a criminal organization. But Roberts said the team was in a lull on a big case and decided to revisit the notion of “knock and talks” — knocking on doors of possible drug activity and seeing if people will talk.

“We’ve kind of gotten away from that because of so many big cases to work,” he said.

The focus in this week’s bust was on places reported as drug houses. Local police departments have a hard time making those cases, Roberts explained, because the drugs and offenders are not always at the home. But those nuisance sites affect the livability of a community and involve the local offenders, which police and neighbors know.

“That was kind of where all this started,” he said.

Roberts reported the investigation used 116 undercover drug purchases. Police would hit one house, Roberts said, and find clues that led them to another name, another place, and the investigation burned along. The work resulted in police seizing two guns, 5.9 grams of cocaine, 22 fentanyl pills, 39.5 grams of heroin and 1,447.5 grams — about 3.2 pounds — of methamphetamine. BENT detectives and county prosecutors presented the evidence to grand juries, which handed up 63 secret indictments.

BENT units rolled with those Wednesday and arrested 65 suspects, including as many as 16 already in county jails or state prisons. The team also obtained five search warrants. Roberts said police conducted those searches last week to minimize risks to the public and in anticipation of Wednesday’s efforts.

Several suspects were small-time dope slingers, but Roberts said a few were dealing in larger amounts, and police earlier in the week arrested suspects that were more troublesome.

Operation Wildfire also netted more arrests than the targets on the indictments. Roberts said police found other offenders who were violating probation, for example, and seized more drugs. He anticipated having a full count sometime Thursday.

The team used the Pendleton Convention Center as its base of operations, and staff from the Umatilla County Jail were on hand to book and process suspects. He said BENT could not conduct this kind of enterprise without relying on law enforcement partners.

Operation Wildfire is not finished. Roberts said police are tracking down another 10 or 11 suspects.

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