Federal authorities and local law enforcement arrested 13 people in a two-day sweep that concluded Wednesday, targeting suspects in Modesto, Turlock, Ceres and Hilmar suspected of ties to a notorious Northern California gang.
The operation was led by the Central Valley Gang Impact Team Task Force, a federally funded group of investigators from local, state and federal police agencies.
Authorities say those arrested are members or associates of the Nuestra Familia prison gang or its street-level gang, the Norteños. The accusations included in a federal indictment against seven men involve a suspected methamphetamine trafficking operation.
State charges against six other people arrested in the two-day sweep include suspected involvement in Stanislaus County crimes such as murder, attempted murder, burglary and drug charges.
"Criminal street gangs are a permeating blight wherever they operate, and it is vitally important that we work together to rid the community of them," said Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.
She said some of the local charges are linked to the Dec. 30 shooting death of David Hernandez, 35, in front of his grandmother's South Avenue home in Turlock. Specific information was not available Wednesday.
Ernesto Negrete was arrested several hours after the fatal shooting and has been charged with Hernandez's murder. He has been in custody since then.
Fladager said a 10-month investigation into Norteño criminal gang activity resulted in the arrests of some on suspicion of attempted murder. A criminal complaint, however, had not yet been filed in court Wednesday, so Fladager said she could not release any further information about those alleged crimes.
She said she anticipated the local charges would be filed formally today or Friday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Arrested on local warrants were the following:
Jesus Manuel Aispuro, also known as "Chuy," 18, and Jarred Elkins, 18, both of Turlock, and a 17-year-old juvenile from Hilmar on charges of attempted murder with a gang enhancement; Brian Gonzales, also known as "Troubles," 36, of Turlock on charges of attempted murder and burglary; Jorge Trevino, 40, of Turlock on a charge of sale of methamphetamine; and Steven Parga, also known as "Silent," 19, of Turlock on charges of conspiracy to transport marijuana and conspiracy to bring drugs into a custodial facility.
Those facing state charges were being held at the Stanislaus County Jail on Wednesday night. Bail amounts were set at $750,000 for Aispuro, $800,000 for Gonzales, $420,000 for Parga, $100,000 for Trevino and $750,000 for Elkins.
The teenage boy arrested was being held at the Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall. His name was not released because he is a minor.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department SWAT team served a search warrant at a Hilmar home, but it could not be confirmed whether the 17-year-old suspect was found there.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury indicted the seven other suspects arrested in the sweep. They were charged with conspiracy to distribute meth and possessing meth with the intent to distribute the drugs, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento.
Arrested Wednesday were Salvador Raymond Deleon Rodriguez, also known as "Sal" or "Fat Shark," 37, of Ceres; Maximilano Sanchez, also known as "Max," 38, of Turlock; Victor Barrajas Arriola, also known as "Twinky," 32, of Ceres; and Jesse Israel Alarcon, 23, of Modesto.
Arrested Tuesday were Joe Anthony Gomez Felix, also known as "Gator" and "Bullet," 33, and Danny Richard Edwin Brown, also known as "D-boy," 37, both of Modesto; and Gary Romero, 47, of Stockton. His aliases are "Pizza," "Cesar" and "Pepperoni."
Another suspect in the case, Carlos Lopez, 45, of Turlock, was arrested in December on an indictment filed on Dec. 5, 2012, that charged him with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Those facing federal charges will be prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office in Fresno.
"Takedowns such as the effort in Modesto and Turlock today demonstrate the commitment of the FBI and its task force partners to improving of the quality of life in our communities by removing individuals who traffic dangerous drugs and commit violent crimes from our streets," Herbert Brown, Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento FBI, said in a news release.
Major show of force
The sweep that ended Wednesday included a highly visible search at a Turlock apartment complex near Canal Drive and Geer Road.
Crystal Smith saw the drama unfold as she headed to work just before 8 a.m. Smith said she saw several black cars blocking Canal at Geer, with a large contingent of law enforcement.
"There was one woman in the apartment complex wearing a red shirt who had her hands cuffed," Smith said. "Another woman was walking down the stairs with a blanket over her head."
Smith said she heard officers shouting, "Come out with your hands up!"
The large showing of force just as school was starting had some Turlock parents concerned.
Connie Courney had just dropped off her son at Turlock's Dutcher Middle School on Colorado Avenue when she first spotted authorities in tactical gear near the apartment complex.
"It looked like Army soldiers, because they were wearing camouflage," Courney said. "They were running along the street, and they were carrying a battering ram."
She could hear a helicopter above, and she saw patrol cars and unmarked police vehicles parked nearby. Courney said she immediately wondered whether she should return to the school and pick up her son.
Courney said a handcuffed man was sitting on an apartment's front steps while a few police officers stood nearby. She drove around and stopped for a bit. A crossing guard was using her binoculars to get a look at what was going on.
She returned to the school and found the students were going about their normal routine. The school had not been placed on lockdown, and she said the principal told her he knew nothing about the police operation nearby.
"Why didn't they do this in the middle of the night, when the students weren't in school?" Courney said.
Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.