CERES — Two men arrested in a massive methamphetamine bust appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, as authorities said they hope the seizure will put a dent in the area's drug trade.
Tuesday, officers arrested Victor Ramiro Torres, 23, of Ceres and Luis Bartolo Madriz-Sandoval, 32, of Everett, Wash., near a Ceres home where they found 290 pounds of meth and $66,000 in cash. The two were booked at the Stanislaus County Jail on felony charges of possession of methamphetamine for sale and transportation of methamphetamine.
Records show that bail for Torres is set at $500,000, although he also has a no-bail immigration hold.
During their arraignment Wednesday, Judge Susan Siefkin set bail for Madriz-Sandoval at $180,000. Siefkin entered pleas of not guilty for the men, who will return to court next week. Madriz-Sandoval will be represented by the public defender's office; Torres said he would retain his own attorney.
Modesto police Sgt. Brian Findlen said the arrests, the result of an investigation after an anonymous tip, will have a major impact.
"It's clear these are large-scale drug dealers," Findlen said. "We're certain it's going to disturb, if not cripple, the distribution of meth in this area in the short term and hopefully in the long term."
Agents with the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency, the Modesto Narcotics Enforcement Team and Homeland Security Investigations served a search warrant at a home on Hardy Court in Ceres on Tuesday afternoon and found the drugs and money.
The home is in a neighborhood of well-kept homes and duplexes just a few blocks from Don Pedro Elementary School. Neighbors said a man and a woman lived at the home with two children; no one was there Wednesday, but an elementary school student body card for the current year was displayed in a window. The house was posted with warnings from the Sheriff's Department about meth lab chemicals on the property, as well as a three-day eviction notice from the landlord, posted Tuesday.
Neighbors said they didn't notice anything unusual at the house, although some said they saw people they assumed were family come and go.
Surprise to neighbor
"It's a beautiful neighborhood," said Alex Lindsey, a pastor at Fountain of Life Church in Ceres, who lives next door to the home where the busts were made. He said he had no idea anything had happened until his son called to tell him police were at the home Tuesday afternoon.
"I was really blown away," Lindsey said. "I never would have had a clue that was going on."
Meth labs were prominent in the Northern San Joaquin Valley several years ago, but now much of the drug is produced in Mexico, where cartels manufacture it in large quantities. The valley remains a thoroughfare for drug distributors trafficking in meth along the West Coast, though, and law enforcement officials cite the drug problem as a factor in several types of property and other crimes.
"This type of seizure should be shocking for any neighborhood," Findlen said.
Agents with the SDEA reported that this is the largest meth seizure in its 40-year existence, Findlen said. He said the investigation is continuing, and more arrests could lie ahead.
"We are following up on the origin of this large amount of methamphetamine," he said.
The going price for meth is $9,000 per pound, making the 290 pounds confiscated Tuesday worth roughly $2.6 million.
"This one is a large-scale, regionwide distribution of meth," Findlen said. "We think we took some key players off the street."
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.