Thirteen men have been arrested in what authorities describe as a Central Coast drug-trafficking takedown.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Santa Maria Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.
Nine men were arrested Tuesday morning on federal charges of conspiracy and distributing methamphetamine.
Four other men were charged with state violations in connection with the investigation. Two of them were already in custody.
The majority of the suspects are from Santa Maria, but two are from San Luis Obispo County. They are Freddie Sutton, 51, of Oceano and Christopher DeLong, 50, of Arroyo Grande. Sutton and DeLong are not suspected of being gang members, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Lesser said.
The Santa Maria residents are: Mike Shepherd, 50; Keshon Cole, 34; Randy Fuston, 29; Melvin Braddock, 40; Eduardo Sanchez, 27; Jesus Buenrostro, 23; and Sergio Godinez, 30.
The state defendants are to be prosecuted by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. They are Petri Duval Gordon, 25, of Lompoc; Troy Hemony Grant, 31, of Lompoc; Alberto Diaz Jr., 31, of Guadalupe; and Ralph Epiphano Castillo, 39, of Guadalupe.
The men arrested on federal charges were en route Tuesday to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to go before a judge for their detention hearing.
If they aren’t awarded bail, they will remain in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.
Mugshots of federal detainees aren’t released.
Sutton and DeLong were charged with the federal crimes of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and the distribution of methamphetamine.
If convicted, Sutton faces 20 years to life while DeLong faces 10 years to life. Both men have prior narcotics offenses, Lesser said.
The majority of the men arrested are allegedly linked to a gang called Northwest from Santa Maria and the Bloods-affiliated Six Deuce Brim gang in Lompoc, according to Laura Eimiller of the FBI.
The gangs had allegedly been working together to distribute drugs across the Central Coast, she said.
The arrests are the result of a one-year undercover drug-buying investigation through the FBI. The suspects reportedly sold drugs to undercover FBI agents on multiple occasions while authorities prepared evidence for the arrest warrants, Lesser said.
“With this morning’s arrests, we have collectively delivered a powerful message to the criminal street gangs and drug dealers who think they can operate in this region,” said U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr. in a statement.
The FBI works with local police and sheriff’s departments in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties “to identify gangs committing the most violent crimes and target them with federal narcotics statutes because the drugs largely fuel the violence in those areas,” Eimiller said.
California State Parole, Lompoc Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, San Luis Obispo Narcotics Task Force, Arroyo Grande Police Department, the CHP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also assisted in Tuesday’s arrests.