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Arrests made in Gustine homicide

POSTED October 15, 2010 9:16 p.m.

The murder of a man dumped in a Gustine orchard was in retaliation for a drug rip off, according to investigators with the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

The sheriff’s department has arrested one man in connection with the homicide and three other men suspected of participating in the theft, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.

According to the sheriff’s department, the victim, 33-year-old Cesar Gallegos, along with Arturo Plado, 23, Epifanio Vargas, 27, and Damian Perez, 33, stole approximately 20 pounds of methamphetamine from a lab operating out of north Merced County.

Gallegos was found dead in an orchard outside of Gustine with his hands bound with duct tape on the afternoon of Oct. 6.

Gallegos’s wife told investigators that on the morning of Oct. 6, armed men burst into their home and kidnapped her husband.

Investigators were able to determine that Gallegos was killed in retaliation for the theft of the methamphetamine and that when his accomplices heard of his death they fled to Los Angeles.

In tracking the three men, investigators found six pounds of methamphetamine at one of their homes, MacKenzie said.

On Tuesday, detectives from the sheriff’s Major Crimes Division went to Hollywood and found all three suspects and took them into custody. Also located in the apartment where they were staying were 13 pounds of meth and two handguns, MacKenzie said.


Investigators then found out that one of the people suspected of being responsible for Gallegos’ death; Jose Ortiz, 32, had fled to Iowa. In cooperation with the Des Moines Police Department, Ortiz was taken into custody Thursday. He is undergoing extradition proceedings at this time.

The investigation is still ongoing.

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