In the community, Local government

Ontario police chief touts drug task force triumphs

ONTARIO – The High Desert Drug Task Force seized 38 guns and more than 4,000 fentanyl pills during 2023, according to statistics released by Mike Iwai, Ontario Police chief.

Iwai is also the president of the board of the High Desert Drug Task Force. He presented the statistics at a recent Ontario City Council meeting.

“They are making a lot of progress,” Iwai said of the task force.

The drug task force existed on and off in the county for at least a decade but several years ago it was disbanded. Last winter, local police agencies resurrected the team as trafficking in illegal narcotics in the county climbed.

The task force includes the Oregon State Police, the Ontario Police Department and the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.

“They are making huge impact. We’ve had significant cases tied into the Boise area and, obviously, into cartels,” said Iwai.

In 2023, the task force conducted 58 investigations and made 55 arrests. The task force also seized more than $28,000 in cash, executed 14 search warrants and confiscated 4,978 fentanyl pills.

“Those statistics are showing we are having an impact in and around Malheur County,” said Iwai.

In one of the more high-profile illegal narcotic busts, the task force, in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies, seized four pounds of methamphetamine, five ounces of fentanyl, eight firearms and more than $20,000 in cash in May.

Sheriff Travis Johnson said the effort by the task force is a “good start.”

“I’m excited about the task force. They are working hard,” he said.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said, “Any pill seized is one less pill on the streets. The drug problem could be 4,000 pills worse now if the task force wasn’t doing what it is doing.”

Oregon State Police Lt. Kurt Marvin said the confiscation of 4,978 fentanyl pills is “significant.”
“The sad part, though, is there is still a lot more out there,” he said.

Marvin said the task force is “just scratching the surface” of the illegal narcotics trade in the county.

“Some of the cases they are making now are small but they will end up being big. You’re going to see some big things in the future,” he said.

Marvin said it is difficult to convey the impact the task force makes locally.

“They contribute to a lot more than just the gun and drug statistics. They are a key player in a lot these homicides investigations tied into the drug world,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

New drug task force aims to curb county’s illegal narcotics trade

High Desert Drug Task Force takes down illegal marijuana processing site

Police launch crackdown on illegal drugs, weapons with Ontario raid

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