Written by Lyle Ahrens, Posted: Fri, May 9 2014 at 3:58 PM, Updated: Fri, May 9 2014 at 6:28 PM
Thursday's raids on food stamp fraud in Klamath Falls was sparked by the "Operation Trojan Horse' investigation, and a suspected money-laundering operation.
'Operation Gold Card' targeted over 60 suspects...35 have now been arrested.
"This is not just a local or a state venture." Stated Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah. "This is darned near a national-type venture."
Police say the owners of the Carniceria Mi Pueblo meat market paid 'Oregon Trail' card holders 50 cents on the dollar.
Detective Eric Shepherd says the resulting profits funded operations of the Taqueria Mi Pueblo taco stand on Oregon Avenue...
"That was essentially the money laundering portion of this."
Detective Shepherd points out that operation gold card has links to the execution-style slaying of two men near Bonanza nearly two years ago...
"This investigation started through 'Trojan Horse', which as you well know, was a cartel connection."
A man being interviewed told police that he wired money through a service similar to Western Union at the meat market to pay cartel debts.
While that doesn't specifically link the market to drug cartels, it did trigger an investigation into Oregon Trail card abuse.
Shepherd notes that the system is easy to abuse...
"There's no real way for even a cashier to check to see if that card belongs to that person. If they have a card and a PIN number, they can use it."
Police say Severo Toro-Castellon, Rafael Ortega-Vargas, and Jose Moremo-Hernandez were the ringleaders of the food stamp fraud operation.
Their felony charges include aggravated theft, conspiracy, and computer crime.
The food stamp fraud investigation in Klamath Falls isn't the only crackdown currently underway.
State and federal investigators are working on similar cases in Portland, Salem, and Hillsboro.
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KOTI-TV NBC2 reporter Lyle Ahrens moved from Nebraska to Klamath Falls in the late 1970's. He instantly fell in love with the mountains, the trees and the rivers, and never once regretted the move.
Lyle's job history is quite colorful. He’s managed a pizza parlor; he’s been a bartender, and a “kiwifruit grader” at an organic orchard in New Zealand. A Klamath Falls radio station hired Lyle in the mid 90's as a news writer and commercial producer. In 2004, Lyle joined the KOTI/KOBI news operation.
Lyle notes with pride that he has a big responsibility presenting the Klamath Basin to a wide and varied audience. "The on-going water crisis has underscored the fact that the people and the issues in the Klamath Basin are every bit as diverse as the terrain. Winning and keeping the trust of the viewers, as well as the newsmakers, is something I strive for with each story".
When he's not busy reporting the news, Lyle enjoys astronomy, playing guitar, fixing old radios and listening to anything by Sheryl Crow.