An investigation that was months in the works and involved multiple wire taps culminated with the arrests of 41 people from the area suspected of trafficking in methamphetamine, the Department of Justice reported.
Federal agents and local law enforcement carried out more than 30 raids and searches Wednesday from Chowchilla to Modesto. A majority of the searches were in Merced County, along with a few in Turlock. According to court documents, six individuals are being charged federally with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and other controlled substances: Luis Tejeda-Hurtado, 24, of Merced; Raul Reyes-Recio, 44, of Merced; Roberto Alfonzo Gomez, 25, of Merced; Larry Duncan, 23, of Merced and Blytheville, Ark.; Charlotte Miller, of Blytheville, Ark.; and Alyncia Elliot, 22, of Merced. Many additional defendants were arrested on state charges.
Separately, in September 2013, agents with the California Department of Justice’s Merced Multi-Agency Narcotic Task Force began an investigation into the Luis Tejada-Hurtado drug trafficking organization 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 organization. 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, Ark. and Merced County.
In February state and local law enforcment agents joined their investigations after they confirmed a link between the Hurtado organization and Norteño gang. The investigation uncovered that members of the Hurtado organization were directly supplying methamphetamine to the Norteño gangs in Merced County and Memphis, Tenn.
In April, a vehicle owned by Duncan and Gomez was towed as the result of a vehicle stop. They were unaware that two kilograms of methamphetamine inside the vehicle at the time had been discovered by law enforcement. Thereafter, Gomez, Elliot (Duncan’s girlfriend), and Miller (Duncan’s mother) all have endeavored to gain access to the stored vehicle in order to retrieve the methamphetamine. In addition, Miller assisted Duncan in making a payment for the methamphetamine by providing Duncan’s money, stored in Blytheville, Ark., to other individuals who were to deposit it into the bank for the benefit of Tejeda-Hurtado. However, the approximately $13,100 in U.S. currency was seized by the Second Judicial District Task Force in Blytheville, Ark.
In a press conference Wednesday detailing the investigation, dubbed “Operation Red Eye,” Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II described several of the arrested individuals as key players in the Norteno street gangs in Merced County and that many of the suspected traffickers had “significant links” to the Nuestra familia prison gang.
“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,” 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.”
Since the start of the investigation agents have arrested 51 people connected to the case and seized 72.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 6 pounds of cocaine, 300 ecstasy pills, 20 firearms and more than $98,000 in cash. Additionally agents raided 10 different sites connected to the case that were being used to grow marijuana.
The 51 defendants are charged with conspiracy, weapons violations, gang enhancements, and possession, transportation, distribution and sale of methamphetamine.
Several individuals remain wanted by federal authorities and because the investigation is ongoing a full list of all those arrested was not released.
This case was the product of a joint investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration (in Arkansas and Merced); the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigations; the Merced Multi-Agency Narcotic Task Force; and the Second Judicial Drug Task Force in Arkansas. Assistant United States Attorneys Kathleen A. Servatius and Melanie L. Alsworth are prosecuting the case.
“Drug traffickers have built sophisticated alliances and distribution networks that stretch across state and national borders that require a coordinated law enforcement response,” California Attorney General Kamala 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 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.