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Imperial, Calif. – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. announced at a news conference today that, working with Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero, his office has secured indictments against 16 individuals and seized over 550 pounds of cocaine and marijuana, dealing a “body blow” to Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa drug cartel.
The indictments and seizures come as part of “Operation Silver Fox,” a joint investigation between the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the Imperial County Narcotic Task Force, Imperial County District Attorney Otero, and Imperial County Sheriff Raymond Loera.
“This notorious cartel smuggled massive quantities of cocaine and marijuana into Southern California, fueling addiction and violence across the nation,” Brown said. “Through a very dangerous and courageous undercover operation, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement and Imperial County Narcotic Task Force has dealt a body blow to this syndicate and seized hundreds of pounds of narcotics.”
Initiated in January 2009, the investigation found that the Mexican cartel smuggled drugs into Southern California—often through the Calexico ports of entry using vehicles equipped with hidden compartments—and would subsequently distribute the drugs to buyers in cities throughout the United States and Canada.
The 8-month investigation included more than 100 surveillance operations (carried out in Bell Gardens, Calexico, Colton, Fontana, Los Angeles, Ontario, Pacoima, Rialto, Riverside and San Diego), 30 undercover meetings and the execution of 6 search warrants. The operations resulted in the seizure of:
• 420 pounds of cocaine and 136 pounds of marijuana, with a combined street value of more than $19 million;
• $1.7 million in U.S. currency; and
• 9 firearms, including 7 handguns and 2 assault rifles.
In addition to smuggling drugs across the border, the cartel also purchased cocaine from other drug traffickers in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Imperial Counties. The drugs were ultimately distributed to local buyers in Southern California, Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Canada in large monthly shipments.
A March 2009 operation, for instance, resulted in the seizure of a large cargo truck used as a cocaine vault to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of drugs every month to Canada, for two years. The seizure came after agents followed a vehicle from Imperial County to an auto repair shop in Pomona. At the shop, agents seized 51 pounds of cocaine from hidden compartments in the vehicle and an additional 119 pounds of cocaine from the cargo truck vault.
In addition to the vehicle, cargo truck and cocaine seized in Pomona, the following vehicles were seized over the course of the investigation:
• 1996 Honda Accord with 37.4 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vehicle in February 2009;
• 2003 Ford Expedition with 37.4 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vehicle in February 2009;
• 2000 Ford Excursion with $19,106 hidden in the vehicle in February 2009;
• 2000 Nissan Xterra with 81 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vehicle in March 2009;
• 2003 Toyota 4Runner with $658,470 hidden in the vehicle in March 2009;
• 2007 GMC Yukon with $738,960 hidden in the vehicle in April 2009;
• 2003 GMC Pick-up truck with 97 pounds of cocaine hidden in the vehicle in April 2009;
• 2001 Dodge Pick-up truck involved in the purchase of 22 pounds of cocaine in May 2009; and
• 2001 Dodge Dakota involved in the purchase of 22 pounds of cocaine in May 2009.
Based on the results of the investigation, the Imperial County Grand Jury indicted the following 16 suspects:
• Marco Mendoza, 43, of South Gate, Calif. was arrested in March 2009 and is being held in Los Angeles County Jail;
• Gerald William Andrews, 42, of Pacoima, Calif. was arrested in July 2009 and is being held in Imperial County Jail;
• Lorena Lara, 29, of Fontana, Calif. was arrested in August 2009 and is being held in San Bernardino County Jail;
• Juan Berumen Sandoval, 44, of Rialto, Calif. was arrested in August 2009 and is being held in Imperial County Jail;
• Juan Gabriel Molina, 28, of South Gate, Calif.;
• Hilario Lopez Rodriguez, 43, of Pacoima, Calif.;
• Norberto Ruelas Urias, 39, of Long Beach, Calif.;
• Ramon Valenzuela, 33, of South Gate, Calif.;
• Rodrigo Grijalva, 31, of Mexicali, Mexico;
• Jose Abraham Guzman, 26, of Mexicali, Mexico;
• Cesar Yaserf Lara, 21, of Mexicali, Mexico;
• Sergio Villagrana Murillo, 62, of Mexicali, Mexico; and
• Four other suspects whose names are being withheld to avoid compromising future arrests.
The investigation is ongoing. Brown’s agents continue to work with U.S., Mexico and local law enforcement officials to apprehend the outstanding suspects.
In addition to the news conference, Brown today met with Mexico, U.S., state and local law enforcement officials to discuss how to improve intelligence gathering, law enforcement action and cross-border collaboration. This includes a first-of-its-kind meeting between Brown, Mexico’s Baja California Attorney General, the Imperial County District Attorney and Sheriff.