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Eight Madera and Merced County Residents Indicted in Gang-Related Drug Trafficking Conspiracies

FRESNO, CA — Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams and United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced that federal, state, and local agents arrested eight Norteño gang members or associates yesterday on drug trafficking charges and served nine federal search warrants. The arrests were part of a coordinated operation involving the execution of numerous federal and state arrest warrants and search warrants in Madera and Merced Counties. In addition to the federal arrests, numerous individuals were arrested on state charges.

Two indictments were unsealed today, both of which were returned by a federal grand jury in Fresno on June 2, 2011. The first indictment charged Gonzalo Esquivel, aka Gunner, 30, and Efren Steve Jiminez, aka Grande, 32, both of Los Banos; Kenneth Hernandez, aka Kenny, 28, of Dos Palos; Gustavo Moreno, aka Gus Gus, 31, and David Torres, 29, both of Madera; with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, and distribution of methamphetamine. Moreno and Torres were also charged with possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

According to the search warrant affidavit, an investigation began in September 2010 into the criminal activities of the Nuestra Familia prison gang and Norteño criminal street gang, using court-authorized wiretaps, surveillance, and other investigative tools. The investigation found evidence of a conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. According to the indictment, on April 29, 2011, these defendants possessed with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine, and Esquivel agreed to deliver two ounces of methamphetamine to Moreno. The affidavit alleges that on April 29, 2011, Esquivel, Hernandez, and Jiminez arranged the delivery of two ounces of methamphetamine to Moreno and Torres. When Moreno and Torres drove away, the California Highway Patrol stopped their car and found the methamphetamine inside it.

If convicted, the defendants face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison and a $10 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

The second indictment charged Juan Herrera, aka Joker, 37; Felipe Gutierrez, 37; and Rafael Velasco, aka B-Street Guerro, 33, all of Madera, with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine. According to the indictment, the defendants have been involved in a conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute since at least April 9, 2011. Again, according to a search warrant affidavit, through the use of court authorized wiretaps, surveillance and various other investigative tools, agents amassed evidence of the conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, of which these defendants were a part. According to the affidavit, Torres was stopped by law enforcement and found to be in possession of methamphetamine allegedly purchased from Herrera. As a result of the federal arrests and search warrants yesterday, over a pound of suspected methamphetamine and at least one firearm was recovered.

If convicted, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum statutory penalty of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

All defendants were taken into federal custody yesterday.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Sanchez. All defendants are expected to make their initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in Fresno today.

U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “The arrests yesterday were simply the latest step in a joint campaign with our state and local law enforcement allies to attack the violent gangs who peddle methamphetamine in the Central Valley. These arrests come one year after the state and federal arrests of more than 50 Norteño and Nuestra Familia gang members in the South Valley, many of whom are in federal custody awaiting trial. As part of this effort, my office has charged dozens of defendants with federal narcotics and firearms offenses over the last 18 months. At least eight defendants are already serving prison terms ranging from 18 to 40 years. This is a sustained, long-term campaign, but we are very pleased with the results so far, and with the close collaboration among the multiple law enforcement agencies that are a part of it.”

“This investigation represents our continued commitment to work with our federal, state, and local counterparts to remove gang members and drug traffickers from the community,” stated DEA Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams.

Agencies participating in the coordinated operation yesterday included the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the California Department of Justice Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, Merced Multi-agency Gang Task Force, Merced Narcotics Task Force, Madera Narcotics Enforcement Team, Madera Gang Enforcement Team, Los Banos Police Department, and the Merced High Intensity Drug Trafficking Unit.

The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.



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