Kenneth Rhoden speaks about son Gary.

DEA agent: Cartel presence in rural Ohio would be unusual

Investigators found evidence of commercial marijuana grow operations at three of the crime scenes in Pike County last week, but the resident agent-in-charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Dayton office said that it would be unusual for the Mexican cartel to be connected.

“Historically, those types of domestic grows are separate from the Mexican cartel supply chain,”a grow operation found in rural Ohio to be cartel-operated,” Chris Melink said in an interview with this newspaper.

Speculation grew about a Mexican cartel connection because of the brutal nature of the murders of eight people at four different crime scenes last Friday morning and a possible history of Mexican organized crime in the area. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has not ruled out such a connection, though other leads are being pursued as well.

Melink said he’s not aware of any grow operations discovered in southwest Ohio that have been linked to Mexican drug organizations.

A majority of the marijuana under control of cartels crosses the border from Mexico in southwestern states such as California and Nevada in multi-ton shipments, he said.

Melink would not speculate on whether the deaths in Pike County were retribution over drug-selling turf, but he said those kinds of killings do occur domestically.

“There are on occasions when acts of violence are carried out, particularly as it relates to markets,” he said.

Pike County was targeted as part of a state marijuana eradication effort in 2012. At one site, on a hillside along Hickson Road, 1,200 pot plants were seized and destroyed.

DeWine said in a press release at the time that the site had “suspected ties to a Mexican drug cartel.”

This followed a discovery in 2010 of almost 23,000 pot plants, again allegedly with evidence linking them to Mexican organized crime.

DeWine on Wednesday noted those prior busts.

“They were both found in remote locations, I can’t tell you exactly where. It was clear what was happeneing at those locations … both were, what I would call, encampments,” he said. “The people were basically in tents, were living out there and were growing the marijuana.”

But DeWine backed down from using the word “cartel” to describe those sites.

“Our information was at the time that these people were from Mexico and they were involved in some sort of organized crime,” he said. “That’s what we thought at the time.”

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