Operation Red Reaper cuts ties between Norteno street gang and captains in Nuestra Familia prison gang
Federal, state, and local law enforcement arrest high ranking members, street thugs in an effort to dismantle multinational drug and gun trafficking business in Kings and Tulare counties
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
HANFORD – A multinational meth ring run by California’s most notorious gangs was brought down last week in Kings and Tulare counties following a major operation involving local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Known as Red Reaper, the operation severed ties between high-ranking members of the Nuestra Familia prison gang, who orchestrated a drug and gun trafficking from their cells, and the Norteno street gang, who executed the criminal activity.
The multi-agency operation, which arrested nearly 100 gang members in Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno Counties, was announced at a news conference in Kings County on June 19. Speaking on behalf of the Sheriff David Robinson, Kings County Asst. Sheriff Robert Thayer said just before 6 a.m. on June 18 hundreds of law enforcement personnel from local, county, state and federal agencies, backed by surveillance, tactical and air support, served 55 search warrants in Kings, Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties.
Since September, the multi-agency operation has arrested 96 gang members, seized 74 firearms, 14 of which were fully automatic, kits to convert semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Those arrested were high ranking members of the Nuestra Familia prison gang as well as every level of organized crime from street dealers to heads of the Norteno street gang. Their alleged crimes ranged from drug possession to drug trafficking, and from robbery to murder.
“We have dismantled, to the best of our abilities, the upper ranking of this structure and we hope and pray now for a peaceful summer in the months to come,” Thayer said.
If there was any doubt as to the gang’s itch for violence, Thayer pointed out that three men who were supposed to be part of the early morning sweep were actually taken into custody earlier that day during an officer involved shooting.
Tulare County Sheriff
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said almost half of the search warrants, 21, were served in Tulare County. Sixteen people were arrested, 1,000 rounds of ammunition were confiscated in Tulare County alone, in addition to drugs and numerous guns.
“Today’s operation was a win for the good guys,” Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said at a news conference.
Sheriff Boudreaux said Tulare County got involved in the operation last December, when the Kings County Sheriff’s Office notified him that many of the crimes in Kings County were being committed by gang members in Tulare County. Sheriff Boudreaux recognized that many of the names were people already known to the sheriff’s department but who they had insufficient evidence to arrest. The two sheriff’s decided to combine their resources as part of the operation.
“Gangs are not going to go away and we have to be diligent in that fight,” Boudreaux said. “I want every gang member to hear that law enforcement locally … we will be coming for you.”
When asked why gangs are targeting Kings and Tulare counties, Boudreaux said several factors contribute to consistent gang activity in area. He said there is a federal prison in Fresno County so many ex-cons end up calling the area home and, just like legal shipping, Highway 99 is a pipeline for every facet of illicit activity from drugs to guns.
“There is a base for that here … and because of that, they live and thrive in our communities,” Boudreaux said.
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Twenty-one of those arrested have already charged with federal felonies. U.S. attorney McGregor Scott said 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 throughout the four counties.
According to court documents, high-ranking Nuestra Familia members 49-year-old Salvador Castro, Jr., aka “Old Man”, and Raymond Lopez, 31, 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 six Visalia men – including Jesse Juarez, 28; Daniel Juarez, 27;
Michael Rocha, 36; Angel Montes, 23; Rafael Lopez, 28; and Raul Lopez, Jr., 48 – with federal drug distribution crimes.
“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,” Scott said. “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.”
Assistant U.S. attorneys Kimberly Sanchez, Laurel Montoya, and Justin Gilio are prosecuting the case.
“The fear and violence that criminal street gangs are perpetrating in our communities cannot be tolerated,” said Attorney General Becerra in a released statement. “We will continue to collaborate with our federal and local partners to reduce crime and keep our communities safe.”
Sacramento Field Office Special Agent in Charge (SIC) Sean Ragan said the FBI pulled in over 200 agents from field offices across California and Nevada for the June 18 operation. That was in addition to countless officers, agents, investigators and attorneys from the Hanford, Lemoore, Avenal and Corocran police department, Tulare and Kings County Sheriff’s offices, the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office, California Department of Justice, California Highway Patrol, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Kings and Tulare county district attorney’s offices. Drug Enforcement Administration, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals Service and Homeland Security Investigations all assisted with the takedown.
“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,” SIC Ragan said. “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 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. This is the third operation of the task force in the Valley. The last two were known as Operation Street Sweeper (2010) and Operation Red Sol (2015).
“This is the third time in the last decade that we have come together to take out Nuestra Familia gang in Tulare County,” Scott said. “I can assure, if we have to come back a fourth time, we will.”