PORTERVILLE - Fifteen people, including a man authorities say headed an extensive drug making and distribution system, were arrested Tuesday in an operation conducted by 300 officers from state, federal and local law enforcement agencies.
Authorities said they arrested Prajedes Felix, Sr., of Porterville, the man they say headed a well-established drug network. Speaking at a Tuesday morning press conference at the Porterville Municipal Airport, they claimed the raid will have a massive impact on drug activity in the San Joaquin Valley.
"It's going to make a significant impact," Lt. Richard Matthews of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Division said.
Fourteen agencies took part in the investigation, which began with an anonymous tip in 1997, Matthews said.
Others arrested in the case include Jose Felix, Albert Felix, Prajedes Felix Jr., Hector Felix, Teresa Felix, Olga Guerrero, Glafiro Gonzalez, who was in custody at the Bob Wiley Detention Facility; Eddie and Anthony Rodriguez, Pedro Lopez, Jim Martin, Anthony Arrellano, who was already in custody; Larry Nelms, and Juan Sanchez, who was also already in custody.
Matthews said they will be prosecuted under federal charges and will be transported to the Fresno County Jail to await court appearances in the Fresno federal court.
The effort, beginning at 4 a.m., was called "Operation Tombstone," Matthews said.
Agencies taking part included the state Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, the Tulare County Sheriff's Department, the FBI, the Bakersfield Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Kern County Sheriff's Department, the Porterville Police Department, the Southern Tri-County High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the Kings County Sheriff's Department, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Visalia Police Department.
Officers served 18 federal search warrants, two state search warrants and were seeking a total of 22 people on federal no-bail arrest warrants.
Matthews said 18 locations, most around the Porterville area and one in Bakersfield, were struck simultaneously. Helicopters and an armored personnel carrier were utilized in the operation.
Officers said they found 5.5 pounds of methamphetamine, found one drug laboratory, and seized 12 guns during Tuesday's operations. During the investigation they bought almost 10 pounds of the drug and a small amount of cocaine from the organization, as well as seizing six methamphetamine laboratories.
They reported seizing 16.5 pounds of methamphetamine, 1.5 pounds of ice, a form of methamphetamine, 2.5 pounds of marijuana and more than $30,000 in cash.
The drug operation is thought to make methamphetamine in the San Joaquin Valley as well as in Tijuana, Mexico, authorities said.
Eloy Romero, special agent supervisor for the state Department of Justice said some of the methamphetamine made in Mexico was likely imported into the United States.
Officials from participating agencies said cooperation among agencies is the only way to deal with big drug operations.
"No one organization can do it by themselves," Silver Rodriguez, Porterville police chief, said.
"You have to pool resources from anybody and everybody." He said he expects long-lasting positive impact as a result of the operation.
Sheriff Mack Wimbish of Kern County compared drug dealing to "domestic terrorism," and said a collaborative effort is essential to stop it.
"Drug dealing today is a lot different than it used to be with the violence it creates. In reality it's just domestic terrorism, I think, and it's going to take agencies from federal, state, counties, cities, everyone to combat domestic terrorism."