McKAY CREEK - Tribal Police and members of the Blue Mountain Enforcement Narcotics Team (BENT) confiscated more than 13,000 marijuana plants and arrested five people on June 29 on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
"It's the largest in reservation history," said Tribal Police Chief Ron Harnden.
At full maturity, each plant is worth between $800 and $1,000, Harnden said, making the entire grow worth between $10 million and $13 million.
Along with the 13,000 plants, authorities confiscated the irrigation system, camping equipment and food. BENT said it also seized a small amount of methamphetamine and firearms found at the scene.
The seizure was part of a federal search warrant served at 46366 McKay Creek Road, in Pilot Rock, which is within the boundaries of the reservation.
The investigation came to completion Thursday, said Sgt. Mike Loughary of Pendleton Police and BENT.
On June 29, authorities arrested five people under suspicion of being involved with the grow.
Father and son Andy Munoz Sr., 48, and Andrew Clarence Alfredo Munoz, 25, were lodged in the Umatilla County Jail under suspicion of six counts each of criminal drug activity.
Rosalio Farias Barragan, 27, and Homero Sanchez Cruz, 28, were lodged under suspicion of manufacturing marijuana, possession of marijuana and criminal conspiracy.
Jose Louis Madrigal Guillen, 32, was lodged under suspicion of possession of marijuana, criminal conspiracy and providing false information to police.
On July 2, Madrigal Guillen posted bail and was released. The other four suspects remain in the jail.
Harnden said only one of the suspects was at the site of the grow when authorities confiscated the plants. He was arrested on scene. The other four arrests occurred later in the day.
On Thursday, Loughary said the five were indicted on federal charges. U.S. attorneys will prosecute the case from here. The case is federal because of the size of the grow, Loughary said.
A sixth suspect, Augustin Sanchez, who was arrested Thursday, also is under suspicion of manufacture and possession of marijuana.
In conjunction with this investigation, the Tri-Cities Metro Drug Task Force served a second search warrant on a storage facility in Pasco where it found 81 pounds of marijuana and roughly 1.25 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, BENT said. Further arrests were made in the Tri-Cities area in connection with this case.
The investigation and subsequent arrests stemmed from a chance encounter near McKay Creek, inside reservation boundaries.
Harnden said a group of tribal maintenance workers were doing work in a field when they noticed watering system tools, such as hoses.
"They ran across some suspicious articles and brought them to our attention," Harnden said.
From there, Tribal Police and BENT teamed up in an investigation that spanned about six weeks leading up to the seizure on June 29.
As with other drug cases, Harnden said they thoroughly investigated before official moves were made.
The seizure used all of BENT's resources plus other officers Tribal Police had on hand, Harnden said.
"They were up there all day, early in the morning until late at night," Harnden said.
Harnden said the location of the grow wasn't typical.
"Its kind of an area you wouldn't think would have operations, it's not hidden very well," he said.
The area had a few sparse trees, but was mostly open and located near McKay Creek Road.
Harnden estimated authorities find about one growing operation per year on the reservation, but this one was the largest. Other operations have ranged in size from 900 plants to 7,000 plants.
"This one was around 13,000, which is substantially larger than the ones in the past," Harnden said.