MEDFORD — SWAT teams led a force of 160 federal, state and local law-enforcement officers early Sunday to break up a massive heroin ring centered in Jackson County that resulted in the arrest of 22 suspects.
The FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Medford police, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and other agencies issued 14 search warrants — 11 in Medford alone — as the culmination of an investigation that began December 2007. A search warrant was issued in Gold Hill and two others were issued in rural areas.
Investigators allege the drug-trafficking ring has ties to other states as well as the surrounding region including Josephine, Douglas and Klamath counties. More arrests could be made later, according to Medford police.
U.S. Marshalls arrested two of the suspects, Ismael Anaya-Acevedo, 27, of the 2000 block of Whittle Avenue and Eliot Aden Dela-Virgen, 33, of the 4600 block of Antelope Road, White City, were charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, a controlled substance and a federal crime. Anaya-Acevedo and Dela-Virgen are being held in Jackson County jail without bail.
Other suspects taken into custody throughout the county are charged with a variety of crimes such as possession of heroin, methamphetamines and methadone as well as sex abuse, endangering minors, manufacturing and distributing heroin within 1,000 feet of a school and parole violations.
Neighbors near Whittle Road heard what they described as the sound of two gunshots around 6 a.m. as the SWAT teams descended on a house that previously had aroused the suspicions of local residents.
"They woke me up," said one 76-year-old neighbor, Bud Elton. "I heard a boom, boom."
Elton, who wasn't sure if an officer had fired blanks, said he and other neighbors had noticed people coming and going at all hours of the night at the house where the arrests were made.
"Everybody in the neighborhood had some suspicions," he said. "It didn't seem like normal activity to me."
He heard a loudspeaker alert people in the house that Medford police officers were outside.
Because it was still dark, Elton couldn't make out what the officers were doing, but he did see some children escorted from the house.
"The sad part of the whole thing was the two little girls over there," he said.
Elton said he was not sure how many were arrested at the house.
According to the Medford police, the other suspects arrested throughout the county are Jessica Leeann Lapizco, 24, of Medford; Austin Hernandez, 23, of Medford; Demetrio Hernandez, 25, of Medford; James Nero, 58, address unavailable; Taffy Nero, 53, address unavailable; Jerret Michael Hooey, 21, Talent; Jesse Sorensen, 26, of Medford; Anthony Aaron Albert, 46, of Gold Hill; James Bryant Hurley, 47, of Gold Hill; William Sanders, 35, of Medford; Jodi Potteiger, 28, of Medford; Ronald Coutee, 54, of Medford; Heidi Marie Barosci, 52, of Medford; Ronald Nicholas Mistretta, 52, of Medford; Warren Alexander Rich, 25, of Medford; Erica Ann Lapizco, 31, Medford; Robert Allen Baldwin, 47, Medford; Garalee Janiece Frank, 29, of Medford; Christopher Sheehan, 38, of Medford; and Victor Antonio Solis, 22, address unavailable.
The arrests resulted from an investigation by the FBI and the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team.
Law-enforcement agencies set up bases of operation at three locations, in the 2100 block of Whittle Avenue in Medford, the 4600 block of Antelope Road in White City and the 5200 block of Pioneer Road near Phoenix.
A neighbor on Pioneer Road, 59-year-old Diane Loyd, said she couldn't sleep and got up about 6 a.m. At first she thought she heard animal sounds, then realized it was a person's voice.
"All of a sudden I heard a bang and wondered — could it be a car that backfired," she said. "My instinct told me it was like a .22."
As she opened the front door, she heard what sounded like a police officer's megaphone and somebody saying, "Get down on the floor."
A few minutes later Loyd and her husband saw a big truck rolling down the road.
Loyd said she was not sure which property the noise was coming from.
Medford Police Lt. Tim Doney said he couldn't reveal any additional information about the case, which is being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office and Jackson County District Attorney's Office. The amount of heroin recovered during the arrests was not disclosed.
Some of the suspects have been arrested previously in Jackson County.
Jerret Hooey was arrested in June 2008 on an indictment charging him with manufacture of cocaine, delivery of cocaine, possession of cocaine, possession of MDMA and a parole violation. In October 2007, Hooey appeared in Jackson County Circuit Court on an indictment charging him with manufacture, possession and delivery of cocaine, possession of ecstasy and failure to appear in court. He was booked into the Jackson County Jail and released Sunday on his own recognizance.
In February 2003, Heidi Barosci appeared in Circuit Court on an indictment charging her with possession of amphetamines.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail email@example.com.