Feds link Salem man to cartel-related drug case as he faces charges in 3 courts

A Salem man already facing a federal drug charge has recently been indicted in Idaho as part of a separate major investigation into drug trafficking linked to Mexican cartels.

Owenn A. Mitchell, 40, was charged in Idaho U.S. District Court in July with two counts of distribution of methamphetamine. According to the indictment handed up in July in Boise, Mitchell is accused of distributing more than 500 grams of methamphetamine in Idaho on Dec. 22, 2022, and Jan. 31, 2023. The indictment also charged Jason Castillo of Nampa of participating in the 2022 delivery and Cheyanne Juarez of Ontario of participating in the 2023 delivery.

The Idaho charges against Mitchell recently were announced in Boise by Idaho U.S. Attorney Josh Hurwit. He said 25 people had been charged in connection with a coordinated investigation by the FBI and DEA that tied methamphetamine and fentanyl trafficking to the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels in Mexico.

“This is a significant punch against the drug trafficking in our area,” said Hurwit.

The charges come as federal and local authorities face a growing flow of illegal drugs into the area.

“Fentanyl and methamphetamine will continue to be the most significant drug threats in 2024,” according to a law enforcement threat assessment.

On March 30, Mitchell was charged in Portland U.S. District Court with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it.

A Salem Police Department report in court said investigators believed that Owenn was a customer of “an upper-level drug trafficker from a previous investigation.”

The court records said Mitchell was monitored by drug investigators when he left a south Salem home on March 27 and met two people outside a Southeast Commercial Street restaurant.

When police stopped him later that day, they searched a duffel bag and found 4.6 pounds of methamphetamine, $16,393 in cash and a pepper-ball gun.

Police later found nearly three-quarters of a pound of meth, an automated money counter and 781 rounds of assorted ammunition when they searched the south Salem home, according to the court complaint. They found another pound of suspected meth and 100 rounds of 12-gauge shotgun shells at a storage unit.

According to police reports filed in federal court, Mitchell “admitted he’s been selling methamphetamine for approximately one year. He estimated he sells approximately 8-10lbs a week and sells a pound for $1,500.”

Police said they then released him from custody.

Three days later, he was stopped while leaving a Hillsboro restaurant.

According to a court filing by Mitchell’s attorney, police found him with $4,690 in cash and “a Ziplock bag containing a substantial amount of counterfeit oxycodone pills, suspected of containing fentanyl.” A search of the vehicle found another $24,420, the filing said.

Mitchell contends the evidence should be suppressed because he was stopped for a traffic violation.

He was subsequently indicted on April 5, 2023, in Washington County Circuit Court on two counts of possession of fentanyl.

At the time of his arrest on the federal charge, Owenn also was wanted in Pendleton on a Umatilla County indictment issued January 2023 for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and possession of a stolen vehicle related to a vehicle theft in November 2022.

A trial on the Pendleton charges is scheduled for Sept. 27.

Oregon Department of Corrections records show Mitchell was sentenced in Marion County in 2014 for charges of burglary, theft, identity theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was in custody from December 2014 until his release in January 2021. He was released from parole supervision two days before he was stopped in March in the Salem case.

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Les Zaitz is editor and CEO of Salem Reporter. He co-founded the news organization in 2018. He has been a journalist in Oregon for nearly 50 years in both daily and community newspapers and digital news services. He is nationally recognized for his commitment to local journalism. He also is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.