SLO County sheriff announces $1 million drug bust, search for 5 suspects

Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced one of the largest drug seizures in San Luis Obispo County history Thursday — the result of a year-and-a-half-long investigation of an operation with “tentacles all the way down in Mexico.”

Parkinson made the announcement at a news conference while standing beside two tables laden with 3 pounds of heroin and 63 pounds of methamphetamine, which his office gave a street value of about $1 million. He added that while the Sheriff’s Office has shut down the 14-member methamphetamine- and heroin-trafficking operation, authorities are continuing to search for five suspects.

The investigation into the drug-trafficking operation — which, according to Parkinson, had "multiple cells operating throughout the U.S.” — began in November 2016 with the arrest of Jaime Vega. The 45-year-old Paso Robles man was "thought to be the ringleader of the organization in this county," according to a Sheriff's Office statement.

San Luis Obispo County drug ring mugshots
A San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office investigation resulted in criminal charges for 14 men and women from throughout San Luis Obispo County on suspicion of drug trafficking. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

Parkinson said information yielded from Vega's arrest led a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department task force to an address where deputies seized 28 pounds of cocaine.

With Vega off the streets, 25-year-old Enrique Garcia of Cambria took over the organization, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

In April 2017, the investigation led to the arrest of Jesus Corona Farias, 28, of Cambria and Adrian Contreras Aguilar, 20, of Paso Robles while they were driving through San Bernadino County with 13 pounds of methamphetamine in their vehicle, the Sheriff’s Office said.

"At that time, investigators believe Garcia fled to Mexico," leaving his girlfriend Gabriela Bucio, 22, of Cambria in charge of the operation, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's Office has active warrants out for the arrest of Garcia, Bucio and three others: Eduard Sanchez, 20, of Los Angeles; Norma Bucio, 20, of Cambria; and Kimberly Ann Fisher, 50, of San Luis Obispo.

Drug Bust017
Sheriff Ian Parkinson answers questions during a news conference detailing how the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Narcotics Unit arrested members of an alleged drug distribution network and seized 63 pounds of methamphetamine and 3 pounds of heroin worth almost $1 million dollars. Joe Johnston

Several other suspected members of the drug ring have already been arrested, including Daniel Clark Venbenthuysen, 40, of Atascadero; Denise Lopez, 19, of Los Angeles; Peter Paul Pascorro, 50, of Morro Bay; Thomas Gibson, 71, of San Miguel; Michael James McCardwell, 64, of Atascadero; and William Martin, 53, of San Miguel.

While the case will be considered active as long as there are still arrest warrants open, Parkinson said Thursday marked the end of the investigation. It also marks one of the last major drug busts for Sheriff's Narcotics Unit Sgt. Eric Twisselman, who intends to retire in May. He said the drug market has come full circle in his 30 years on the force.

"When I started, heroin was a big deal, and now it's back," Twisselman said.

Despite the substantial amount of drugs seized as a result of the investigation, Parkinson said the dent in the supply is only temporary.

"When these people get arrested, there's somebody that's going to fill their shoes because of the value of this stuff on the street," he said.

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