By David R. Anderson
and Dave Hogan
of The Oregonian staff
Three months ago, the Subway sandwich shop on Southwest Sixth Avenue had to lock its bathroom. The drug dealers stashing cocaine and heroin there were threatening to outnumber the customers.
In front of nearby Coffee People last week, a dealer used a gun to threaten a clerk.
On Wednesday, the Portland Police Bureau, the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced the results of a three-week sting operation designed to put a major dent in the brazen drug-dealing on Portland's transit mall.
Undercover buys have led to indictments and warrants for 116 people accused of selling cocaine and heroin. By Wednesday, police had arrested at least 82 people.
Armed with hidden video cameras, police and FBI agents posed as drug buyers from Dec. 4 to Dec. 22. They compared the videotapes to photographs of people previously arrested.
In one case last month, a woman used her baby's diaper to hide the drugs.
More than 90 percent of those indicted in the operation are Hispanic. That worries members of
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DRUGS, Page D5
Officer Joe Schilling uses photographs of suspected drug dealers to search downtown's transit mall Wednesday. Police obtained warrants for 116 suspected dealers.Drugs: Mayor defends arrests of 'illegal aliens'
the Hispanic community, who say police are focusing on half of the problem - the sellers.
"We're concerned about the fact that it wasn't Hispanics doing the buying," said Carlos Rivera, a member of a citizens committee that advises the police chief. "It was people from Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, who come downtown to buy. And they're not being arrested, and charged, and we need to do that."
Rivera did not doubt the need for a drug cleanup.
"The Hispanic community does not support dealing by anyone," Rivera said. "But I just think it should be done in a more equitable spirit."
Among the 116 indicted in the investigation were 40 defendants who had returned to the U.S. after being deported after felony convictions, mostly for drug-related offenses.
Mayor Vera Katz, a bus rider who has seen drug dealing on the transit mall firsthand, said the investigation did not target Hispanics.
"The majority (of the dealers in that area) are illegal aliens and Latinos, that's the reality," she said. "If you're an illegal alien and dealing drugs and have a felony record, there's no excuse, and we're going to act."
About 10 percent of the arrest warrants were for buyers, said Lt. C.W. Jensen, Portland police spokesman. Police are trying to put more emphasis on buyers, Jensen said.
Last month's operation was dubbed "Round Three" because it is the third time police have joined the FBI to clear an area of dealers. Previous sting operations, in April 1994 and October 1993, focused on the Old Town area north of West Burnside Street.
That was part of the reason dealers moved south of Burnside into the downtown area.
"We think some of this is displacement from our success in Old Town," Police Chief Charles Moose said at a Wednesday press conference.
Moose promised that police will not allow the problem to move from one neighborhood to another.
"On the streets in downtown Portland, we're trying to send the message, 'Not here,' " he said. "The people at Meier & Frank don't deserve to have people in front of their store intimidating customers and making people feel unsafe. The reality is that we must provide some relief to the business people, the neighbors."
Undercover police arrested more than 40 people on drug charges during at least three smaller sweeps along the transit mall in March, August and September.
In the latest investigation, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted the defendants last week on drug delivery and possession charges. Most had sold cocaine to undercover officers. Some sold heroin, but most had both with them, Deputy District Attorney Suzanne Hayden said.
"It just depended on what the undercover officer wanted," she said, noting that officers usually asked for the drugs by their street names: "soda" for cocaine, "chiva" for heroin.
Some of the dealers may be headed to federal prison.
David V. Beebe, district director for the INS, said 105 of 116 people charged in the drug investigation came to the United States illegally, almost all of them from Mexico.
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