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County's drug task force disbanding.

Byline: Chelsea Deffenbacher The Register-Guard

The Lane County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team is disbanding, effective immediately.

INET Board Chairman Rick Lewis, who is the police chief in Springfield, said budget and staffing issues both were factors in the decision to dissolve the team, which recently has been four officers and a sergeant.

The team included one detective from Springfield, one from Eugene and two from Oregon State Police. The sergeant, Erik Fisher, is with OSP.

Lewis said Springfield's detective on the team will return to Springfield police and join the department's other two detectives assigned to narcotics arrests in the city. Those three, paired with the drug- detecting K-9 on the force, will make for "a more robust program," Lt. Scott McKee said Tuesday.

"For us, it's not going to make that much of a difference," he said.

The Eugene police detective on the team will be reassigned to narcotics investigations at EPD, spokeswoman Melinda McLaughlin said. He'll be working solo, however, as no other Eugene detectives are assigned exclusively to narcotics enforcement.

OSP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

INET, which was founded in 1987 and primarily dealt with methamphetamine laboratories in Lane County, has disbanded once before.

In 2005, the group dissolved for three years after budgeting shortfalls, Lewis said.

It was reformed in 2008, and although meth labs no longer represent a big issue in the county, methamphetamine continues to be the focus of the group, Lewis said.

Last year, the team seized 14,167 grams of methamphetamine. So far this year, the team has seized 14,687 grams of methamphetamine.

Last year, INET made 110 arrests, seized $133,620 in cash and more than $15,000 worth of vehicles.

Smaller amounts were seized of honey oil (also known as hash oil), cocaine, heroin, hashish, Ecstasy, LSD and psychedelic mushrooms.

In addition, eight overdose deaths were investigated.

This year, INET seized more than $115,000 in cash, $27,000 worth of vehicles, made 52 arrests and investigated four deaths caused by drug overdoses.

Marijuana, Lewis said, is not an area of focus for INET since the product became legal, and the majority of grow operations now are overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

In 2016, more than 18,769 grams of marijuana were seized in the county by INET, in addition to 131 plants - more than any other drug.

So far this year, 605 grams of marijuana was seized, and 14 marijuana plants.

The four officers and one sergeant on the team were each funded by their parent agencies. Equipment, building leases for operations and drug-buying money are funded by state and federal forfeitures.

Dollar amounts for state and federal funding were not immediately available.

But those funds, Lewis said, are diminishing and have been for some time.

The lack of funding as well as the whittled down team, has made INET less effective, Lewis said, and the board voted in June to dissolve.

But Lewis said the public shouldn't be concerned, as "there will still be narcotics enforcement efforts within the county," and the agencies plan to continue working together and sharing information to keep drug traffickers and dealers off the streets. Any cases that were in progress at the time of the disbanding will be taken back to their parent agencies and will continue to be investigated, Lewis said.

The same day that the agency dissolved, a 49-year-old man was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Eugene to 11 1/2 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and illegal reentry.

Florentino Ambriz-Banderas was arrested in Lane County in April 2016 after a driver in California was stopped with 15 pounds of methamphetamine in his car.

The driver admitted to authorities that he had made multiple similar trips in the past, and led agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration and California law enforcement to Ambriz-Banderas in Springfield.

Ambriz-Banderas had more than $5,000 in cash on him, as well as two scales with meth residue on them in his home, according to the U.S. Attorney General's Office.

Ambriz-Banderas has a 2011 federal conviction in Oregon for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, and was deported in 2015 after serving his sentence. He subsequently reentered the United States unlawfully prior to being arrested for this offense, the attorney general's office said.

INET participated in that investigation.

Follow Chelsea on Twitter @ChelseaDeffenB. Email chelsea.deffenbacher@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Crime; Budget and staffing issues were factors in the decision to dissolve the interagency team, its chairman says
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 2, 2017
Words:737
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