As part of a multi-agency operation, over 50 individuals were arrested in California on federal and state charges in connection with their drug-trafficking activities after investigation into the criminal activities of individuals associated with the Nuestra Familia prison gang. The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office, Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward, Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, and Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.
The defendants charged federally are:
1) SALVADOR CASTRO, JR., 49, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
2) RAYMOND LOPEZ, 31, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
3) JESSE JUAREZ, 28, of Visalia
4) DANIEL JUAREZ, 27, of Visalia
5) MICHAEL ROCHA, 36, of Visalia
6) ANGEL MONTES, 23, of Visalia
7) RAFAEL LOPEZ, 28, of Visalia
8) MANUEL BARRERA, 24, of Kettleman City
9) MANUEL GARCIA, 33, of Armona
10) JOANN BERNAL, 32, of Armona
11) RAMON AMADOR, 29, of Riverdale
12) RAUL LOPEZ, JR., 48, of Visalia
13) DONAVEN ADKINS, 41, of Hanford
14) RYAN GINES, 39, of Armona
15) DOUG GINES, 48, of Hanford
16) FLORENTINO GUTIERREZ, 37, of Hanford
17) JESUS NUNEZ, 19, of McFarland
18) MARIA NUNEZ, 22, of McFarland
19) LOUIS MOLINA, 48, of Hanford
20) ERNESTO ZIBRAY, 30, of Delano
21) TIFFANY FELLER, 31, of Riverdale.
According to court documents, in March 2019, various agencies partnered in an investigation into the Nuestra Familia prison gang and the Norteño street gang in Kings County. The investigation uncovered that Nuestra Familia was responsible for large-scale trafficking of methamphetamine and other controlled substances, as well as various firearms offenses and other violent crimes.
According to court documents, high-ranking Nuestra Familia members Salvador Castro, Jr. and Raymond Lopez used contraband cell phones from inside Fresno County’s Pleasant Valley State Prison to arrange the transport of illicit narcotics from drug sources in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County. From that stash house, gang members outside of the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare Counties. The complaint charges several other gang associates, including Angel Montes, Rafael Lopez, Daniel Juarez, Manuel Barrerra, Manuel Garcia, Joann Bernal, Ramon Amador, and Raul Lopez, Jr. with federal drug-distribution crimes.
U.S. Attorney Scott stated, "This coordinated law enforcement operation highlights how federal, state, and local law enforcement partners can work together to target gang activities that make our communities unsafe. When we work together in this way, we are more effective in achieving our shared goal of ensuring public safety. We are committed to combatting and reducing violent crime and drug trafficking, both inside and outside of prison walls."
"The fear and violence that criminal street gangs are perpetrating in our communities cannot be tolerated," said Attorney General Becerra. "We will continue to collaborate with our federal and local partners to reduce crime and keep our communities safe."
"The FBI is dedicated to disrupting and dismantling gangs through intelligence-driven investigations, new and longstanding initiatives, and partnerships—state, local, federal, and trans-national," said FBI Sacramento Field Office Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan. "Yesterday's effort exemplifies our commitment to working with our partners to reduce the impact of gang violence and crime in the communities we serve."
This case was the product of an investigation by the Kings County Gang Task Force; Agents of the Special Operations Unit – a team of agents from the California Department of Justice and the California Highway Patrol; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the FBI, and Kings County District Attorney's Office. Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals Service, and Homeland Security Investigations all assisted with the takedown. Assistant United States Attorneys Kimberly Sanchez, Laurel Montoya, and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF Program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.
All 21 defendants have been arrested. If convicted, they face a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. Several of the defendants also face a range of mandatory minimum sentences ranging from between five to ten years in prison. Any sentence, however, would 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 charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.