Fifteen people have been arrested and more than 40 weapons and two pounds of heroin seized as part of the largest drug ring takedown in the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office’s recent history.
The criminal operation had direct ties to Mexican drug cartels, authorities said.
“Today we were able to put a major narcotics operation out of business,” said Sheriff Ian Parkinson at a news conference Wednesday. “These aren’t street dealers. These are suppliers.”
Around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, 13 search warrants were issued simultaneously at locations across SLO County, as well as in Riverside and Monterey counties. A flash-bang was used at several sites as a distraction device, and there were no injuries.
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The drug-trafficking operation had a network that sold drugs locally out of Paso Robles, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach, and Oceano, said Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla.
Federal investigators "strongly suspect" the ring is connected to the powerful Sinaloa cartel, said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the investigative arm of the federal Department of Homeland Security.
The Sinaloa drug cartel controls the maritime smuggling corridor along the California coast, she said. The cartel is believed to be responsible for another significant drug operation that extends from Mexico up the Central Coast — the panga boats used to smuggle tons of marijuana in the dark of night.
The Sheriff’s Office spent more than 1,500 hours coordinating Wednesday's drug bust, which was a joint effort among local, state and federal agencies: the San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero police departments; the San Luis Obispo County Probation Department and District Attorney’s Office; CHP; ICE, the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The 2¼ pounds of heroin seized has a value of more than $100,000. When additional evidence and drugs seized from the morning raid are processed, that number will go up, Cipolla said.
“This is what we got,” Parkinson said. “This is probably a small portion of what has been in this county prior to this day.”
Police K-9s assisted in the raid by sniffing out drugs buried in a San Luis Obispo backyard, as well as drugs concealed in the scopes of two weapons seized in Oceano. Forty of the guns were found in one home in Oceano, with more guns found at other locations.
Many were semi-automatic weapons, and police were still determining whether any had been modified to be fully automatic, Cipolla said.
The three K-9s panted at the edges of the news conference room at the Sheriff’s Office, where tables displayed several long guns, black tar heroin, bags of Oxycontin pills, one ounce of methamphetamine, military-style body armor, and stacks of as-yet uncounted cash confiscated during the operation. Police also uncovered a stolen ATV and trailer.
“We normally deal with gram levels of heroin. When you start seizing pounds of heroin, that’s very significant,” Parkinson said. “We know the bulk of what we have recovered came from Mexico through the Riverside area to San Luis Obispo County. We also had some come from Monterey County into SLO County.”
The challenge of stopping drugs from infiltrating San Luis Obispo County is far from over, he said.
All 15 people arrested were U.S. citizens, Parkinson said. Among the 15 people arrested in connection with the drug-trafficking investigation, the following 14 had felony warrants:
- Adrian De Martino Morales, 24, of San Luis Obispo
- Melissa Ann Clare, 35, of San Luis Obispo
- Bryan Scott Simpson, 29, of San Luis Obispo
- Aldo De Martino Morales, 22, of Atascadero
- Jose Jaime Figueroa, 29, of Oceano
- Colin Matthew Kennedy, 28, of Pismo Beach
- Ismael Quintero, 24, of Pismo Beach
- Daniel Quintero Figueroa, 23, of Pismo Beach
- Ryan Oray Krebs, 37, of Arroyo Grande
- Marco Antonio Villanueva, 47, of King City
- Eric Perez, 36, of Perris
- Roman Paolo Perez, 26, of Moreno Valley
- Armando Romero Gonzalez, 23, of Riverside
- Esmeralda Ramos, 25, of Riverside