The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the Navajo Nation Police and over a dozen other law enforcement agencies in a raid on the hemp operation owned by Dineh Benally, the Navajo Times reports. The raid, dubbed “Operation Navajo Gold,” came following reports of THC-rich cannabis production, interstate drug trafficking, and violations of labor and child labor laws.
“This operation is a testament to the unified partnership we have with our local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Although we cannot provide the community with additional information, we want the public to know that NPD and multiple law enforcement agencies have been working together to address this.” — Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco, in the report
Benally is the former president of the San Juan River Board and last month the Navajo Nation Council passed an amendment to outlaw hemp production primarily due to his suspected illegal activities.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that Benally and his unnamed investors “sought to take advantage of what they believed to be a jurisdictional gap on the Navajo Nation that would allow them to operate outside the law.” In September, a Navajo Nation court granted a temporary restraining order and injunction against Benally and his companies from continuing their hemp operations. Following that order, tribal officials inspected the farm and “discovered that a significant portion of the crop being grown appeared to be marijuana,” the Navajo Department of Justice said in a press release. Additionally, the agency said a significant number of foreign workers were being employed at the farm.
The Navajo Justice Department said Benally started the hemp operation last year and it now has over 1,000 greenhouses, spanning more than 400 acres. The land is leased from Navajo farmers who formerly used it to cultivate corn. Last month, the Navajo Nation sued the 33 farmers who leased the land to Benally for his operations. According to the Navajo Times, the tribe contends that the farmers “possess or control Navajo lands that are being used to illegally grow, produce, manufacture, transport, or sell industrial hemp and/or marijuana” and the actions are “irreparably injuring and contaminating the Nation’s lands, waters, and other natural resources.”
The FBI confirmed to KOLD13 News that it had executed search warrants “in the area of Shiprock, (New Mexico).”
The investigation includes nine federal agencies, along with state, tribal, and local agencies from at least three states.