ASTORIA - Warrenton K-9 officer Ruff's tail was wagging last Thursday.
His handler and a cadre of law enforcement officers were in a mood to celebrate too.
The 3-year-old German Shepherd, with handler, Ray Ayers, a Warrenton police officer, sniffed out drugs and money in one of the largest raids in recent years on the Lower Columbia.
Police agencies in five counties worked together to break into a major drug distribution ring from Mexico supplying southwest Washington and northwest Oregon. The five-month-long investigation led to raids on three residences in Astoria on March 22 that netted nearly two pounds of methamphetamine and rock cocaine, valued on the street at $44,000, plus $16,800 cash, 10 guns, including an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and seven arrests.
Pacific County Sheriff John Didion and Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin attributed the success of the ongoing investigation to the cooperation of police agencies in Columbia and Clatsop counties in Oregon and Washington's Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Pacific counties. The investigation started in October with information developed by the Wahkiakum County Sheriff's Office and the Pacific County Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Clatsop County Inter-agency Narcotics Team, Wahkiakum County Sheriff's Office and Pacific County Narcotics Enforcement Team worked side by side to track the suspects' alleged drug trafficking. The suspects live in Astoria and sold drugs to police in Pacific County through controlled buys. With the evidence from the joint investigation, search warrants were obtained for three residences - two apartments at 1005 Exchange St. and one at 411 Bond St. in Astoria - and for four vehicles.
Sixteen officers from the Clatsop Sheriff's Office, Oregon State Police and Astoria, Warrenton and Seaside police departments hit the three residences shortly after 7 a.m. The drugs, money and guns were all found inside the residences; police also seized three vehicles. Authorities believe most of the guns, which were new, were headed to Mexico, as was the money.
The drugs, mostly methamphetamine, were packaged ready for delivery. The cocaine was wrapped in pieces that sold for $100 each. The meth was divided into cellophane-wrapped balls in various sizes from a quarter-ounce at $240 to a full ounce sold for $1,000.
Neighbors expressed surprise at the drug trafficking that had been occurring just next door, Bergin said. As officers sorted the evidence later at the sheriff's office, cell phones confiscated from the suspects were ringing with calls from their contacts. Some of the suspects had distributed drugs to residences in Columbia, Clatsop and Pacific counties.
"Today's raids made a temporary dent into the drug trafficking in this area, Bergin said. "The narcotics trade is a well-organized industry sapping thousands of dollars out of the United States and into the hands of Mexican drug lords."
Law enforcement in Washington and Oregon are working together to be more effective through regional efforts focused on narcotic traffickers.
Sheriff Didion said, "The effectiveness of our partnership is shown in the scope, professionalism and results of this investigation. The funding provided by the Washington State Legislature to our Regional Drug Task Force enabled this operation to happen. We will continue to work closely both with citizens and law enforcement within Pacific County and our neighboring counties and states. Criminals recognize no boundaries and neither should we. Sheriff Bergin and his office are committed partners in the fight against drug abuse."
As for four-legged officer Ruff, it was just another successful day at the office.
"He gets them in all the nooks and crannies of an apartment or car," Warrenton Chief Bob Maxfield said last week.
Arrested and lodged in the Clatsop County Jail were:
? Juan Polo Ochoa, possession and delivery of controlled substances;
? Maria del Carmen Bahan Carballo, possession and delivery of controlled substances;
? Guadalupe Hernandez Carball, possession and delivery of controlled substances;
? Juan Gabriel Baizabal Cajina, possession and delivery of controlled substances;
? Noe Hernandez-Carball, fugitive warrant issued by Pacific County for possession of a controlled substance;
? Mariano Ramirez Zurita, identity theft and fugitive warrant from Pacific County for delivery of a controlled substance;
? Marcela Baizabal Rodrigues, second-degree possession of a forged instrument.
The suspects were arraigned in Clatsop County Circuit Court on Friday.