Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces 51 Arrests in Multi-State Drug Trafficking Bust

Merced, California - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced the arrest of 51 individuals associated with a Central Valley-based gang and narcotics trafficking organization and the seizure of methamphetamine, ecstasy, cocaine, marijuana and firearms.

“Drug traffickers have built sophisticated alliances and distribution networks that stretch across state and national borders that require a coordinated law enforcement response,” Attorney General Harris said. “This seizure highlights the importance of cross agency collaboration and the need to support the state task forces that make this work happen. I thank our local, state and federal partners for their ongoing commitment to fighting this serious threat.”

The 51 defendants are charged with conspiracy, weapons violations, gang enhancements, and possession, transportation, distribution and sale of methamphetamine.

Today, over 200 agents executed arrest and search warrants in Merced County and, at the time of this release, made 41 arrests and seized 17 firearms, 300 ecstasy pills, 1.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.5 pounds of cocaine, 10.5 pounds of processed marijuana, 841 marijuana plants, 11 vehicles and $83,000 U.S. currency.

Over the course of the entire investigation, agents have now made 51 arrests, seized a total of 72.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 6 pounds of cocaine, 300 ecstasy pills, 10 marijuana growing operations, 20 firearms and $98,400 in U.S. currency.

“Today, through the incredible talent and effort of local, state and federal law enforcement personnel, we dealt a significant body blow to an organized crime cartel that has been trafficking substantial quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine throughout the Central Valley and across several states,” Merced County District Attorney Morse said. “Today’s raids and arrests will put a serious dent in the structure and activities of Norteño gangsters in Merced County operating with the Nuestra Familia Prison Gang. We will never relent in our efforts to destroy the revenue sources for these violent criminal street gangs that are such a plague in our communities.”

The United States Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California will prosecute the seven federal defendants who are in the custody of the United States Marshall's Office. The Merced County District Attorney’s Office will prosecute defendants facing state charges, who were booked into Merced County Jail and are currently being held on bail ranging from $1 million to $150,000.

Agents from the California Department of Justice’s Special Operations Unit (SOU) conducted an investigation into the Norteño criminal street gang in Merced County for distributing crystal methamphetamine and collecting taxes on behalf of the Nuestra Familia Prison Gang.

Separately, in September 2013, agents with the California Department of Justice’s Merced Multi-Agency Narcotic Task Force (MMNTF) began an investigation into the Luis Tejada-Hurtado drug trafficking organization (DTO) that initially resulted in the seizure of approximately 30 pounds of methamphetamine and two kilograms of cocaine from a vehicle with a hidden compartment and a storage locker used by the DTO. From that seizure, agents obtained additional information about several other associates of Hurtado, including Raul Recio and Larry Duncan. Agents recently seized 20 pounds of methamphetamine from Recio immediately after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Duncan is a known member of the criminal street gang ‘The Get Money Boys/Green Guys’ which operates out of Blytheville, Arkansas and Merced County.

In February 2014, SOU and MMNTF agents joined their investigations after they confirmed a link between the Hurtado DTO and Norteño gang.  The investigation uncovered that members of the Hurtado DTO were directly supplying methamphetamine to the Norteño gangs in Merced County and Memphis, Tennessee.

Additional agencies and task forces that participated in today’s operation include: The California Department of Justice-Bureau of Investigation regional offices and task forces, Central Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking task forces, Merced County Gang Task Force, Merced Police Department Gang Violence Suppression Unit, Merced County Sheriff’s Department, Merced County District Attorney’s Office, Atwater Police Department, Los Banos Police Department, Madera Special Investigations Unit, Kings County Gang Task Force, California Highway Patrol, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, United States Marshall’s Service and United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California.

A March 2014 report issued by Attorney General Harris called the trafficking of methamphetamine from Mexico into California a growing threat to the state and a top priority for law enforcement. The report,Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Organized Crime, is the first comprehensive report analyzing the current state of transnational criminal organizations in California and the threats they pose to the state’s public safety and economy. The report also outlined recommendations to address this problem, which include increased funding for state anti-narcotics trafficking task forces and additional coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in combatting transnational criminal organizations. The report is available here: https://oag.ca.gov/transnational-organized-crime.

Following the release of this report, Attorney General Harris led a delegation of state attorneys general to Mexico to strengthen working relationships between the governments of both countries and enhance efforts to combat transnational crime. The delegation met with Mexican state attorneys general and federal officials to discuss the issues of drug, human and firearms trafficking, money laundering and high-tech crime.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the four other state attorneys general also signed a letter of intent with the National Banking and Securities Commission of Mexico to establish a bi-national working group on money laundering enforcement.

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