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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces Dozens of Arrests in Major Central Valley Gang Takedown

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Contact: (415) 703-5837

LOS BANOS --- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the arrests of 101 leaders and members of two transnational gangs operating violent criminal enterprises in the Central Valley cities of Madera, Los Banos, Livingston, Merced, Atwater and Dos Palos.

“As transnational gangs traffic crime into California, we must counter their ruthlessness with our resolve,” said Attorney General Harris. “The arrest of dozens of transnational gang leaders and members frees California from a significant criminal threat.”

The operation, code-named “Red Zone,” was led by Attorney General Harris’ Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement office in Fresno. It is the latest in a series of actions the Attorney General has taken against transnational gangs.

Attorney General Harris was joined today in the announcement of Operation Red Zone by U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson, and Merced District Attorney Larry Morse II.

Law enforcement from 16 local, state, and federal agencies arrested 75 individuals yesterday, adding to 26 previous arrests, and seized methamphetamine, marijuana plants and crack cocaine during sweeps in Madera and Merced counties. Police also seized more than a dozen firearms, including five assault rifles, and more than $64,000 in currency.

Operation Red Zone was launched in August 2010, when agents with the Department of Justice discovered that members of the Nuestra Familia gang – effectively driven out of Salinas in earlier sweeps – had set up drug trafficking operations in the cities of Madera, Los Banos, Livingston, Merced, Atwater and Dos Palos.

Agents from the Department of Justice logged more than 8,100 hours on the investigation. Out of this focused attention, and the full-time commitment of 21 individuals from the Fresno Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, agents narrowed in on dozens of gang members – tracking their day-to-day activities and gathering evidence of felonies ranging from drug trafficking to attempted murder.

Seventy-two arrest warrants were served yesterday at more than 50 locations in Merced and Madera counties, in an operation conducted by 31 multi-agency teams. Those arrested were booked into the Madera and Merced County jail. Eight of the individuals arrested will be federally indicted, while the remainder will be prosecuted in Merced County.

The arrests were conducted with assistance from Merced Gang Task Force, Madera Gang Task Force, Merced Narcotics Task Force, Merced County Sheriff’s Department, Merced Police Department, Atwater Police Department, Los Banos Police Department, Livingston Police Department, Madera Police Department, Madera County Corrections, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Operation Red Zone grew out of intelligence obtained in earlier operations. In April 2010, agents from the Attorney General’s Gang Suppression Enforcement and other law enforcement agencies arrested 37 members of the Nortenos and Surenos gangs in Salinas. These arrests targeted the most dangerous gang leaders and, along with an additional 57 arrests, had a significant impact on gang operations in Salinas.

Likewise, the arrests in Madera and Merced counties yesterday focused on gang leadership – and signal the Attorney General’s commitment to disrupting the influence of transnational gangs in communities across the state.

In February, agents arrested three associates of a Tijuana drug cartel in a murder-for-hire plot in Southern California. In March, Attorney General Harris brought law enforcement leaders from across the state to California’s border with Mexico to see firsthand the problem of transnational gangs smuggling guns, drugs and human beings across the border. In April, the Attorney General announced the creation of the first multi-agency gang task force in Tulare County.

Last month, the collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies led to two significant gang takedowns. In Contra Costa, a gang sweep netted 35 arrests and the seizure of more than 135 pounds of methamphetamine (http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2082&). In another bust in Chico and surrounding areas, local, state and federal agents arrested 23 individuals and seized a significant stash of methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine (http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2084&).

Four of every 10 homicides that occur in California are gang-related, and more than 80 percent of the California cases in which relocation is required for the protection of witnesses involve gang violence.

Launched in Folsom Prison in 1968, Nuestra Familia is one of seven prison gangs in the state. Through top-down leadership, Nuestra Familia controls illegal activities inside several prisons, as well as most of the Nortenos gangs who operate in central California – from Yuba City to Bakersfield and from Salinas to the Sierra foothills.

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