Police: Oregon high school pot ring used student dealers

PORTLAND, Ore. — Detective Mike Francis will be the first one to tell you that the West Linn Police Department’s bust of a drug trafficking ring centered in the city’s high school is unlikely to be featured in a “Scarface” sequel.

“We’re not dealing with cartel-level people,” Francis said.

That said, the bust is a big one in this small suburb of Portland: 10 pounds of marijuana, $18,000 in cash and an alleged network of student dealers operating within the high school. If anything, it’s certainly given the school’s parents something to think about.

“My phone’s ringing off the hook with parents calling, giving information about other kids, saying we need to figure this out,” said Francis, a former schools resource officer.

Police raided the home of 51-year-old Francesco Romano Zorich on Nov. 19, and arrested two more men Nov. 25 in raids on their homes. Officers seized 10 pounds of marijuana and more than $18,000 in cash. Police said in a statement this week that most of those identified in the investigation are current and former West Linn High School students.

On Thursday, police announced the arrest of Warren D. Simon, 18, on charges of distribution of marijuana.

The combination of drugs, search warrants and kids in school is an irresistible mix for the press, and Francis has watched the story morph from the facts of a busted drug ring to a fictional, daring tale of teenage distributors running dope.

“What has been kind of dramatized a little bit is that there’s this narcotics organization that drove down and enlisted high school students to seek a profit,” Francis said. “That would be a mischaracterization.”

Francis said the operation worked like this: A distributor in either Eugene or Portland would supply mid-level dealers with pot. They, in turn, would recruit students or recent graduates to act as runners in a distribution network.

But that’s where the comparison to a high-level narcotics operation falls apart, because the “network” that resulted usually was a group of friends sitting around getting high.

“I equate this to, 30 years ago, in high school, if you had a six-pack of beer, you had six friends,” Francis said. “The analogy is sort of the same.”

An attorney for Zorich, accused of hiring the students and paying them with pot, could not be reached on Thursday afternoon. An attorney for Simon could not be identified.

This being Oregon, Francis compared the network to salmon in rivers.

“We’re working on cases on the upstream side, versus downstream, smaller fish,” Francis said. “Our question was, ‘Do we go after the bigger fish, or do we try to tackle the smaller fish?”’

Francis said further developments, including the possibility of more arrests, are likely.

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