Feds: Mexican gang flooding Central Valley towns with drugs from inside California prison

Two weeks after federal officials announced charges against members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang in an alleged conspiracy to order murders, sell drugs and smuggle cell phones, new charges have been filed against another prison gang believed to be coordinating methamphetamine sales from a Central Valley prison.

Federal court documents unsealed Tuesday charge 21 defendants – some of them allegedly operating out of their cells at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga – with conspiracy to sell and possess methamphetamine.

The charges, filed in two criminal complaints, are aimed at crippling the operations of the Nuestra Familia gang, which operates out of Pleasant Valley and is believed to be flooding Kings and Tulare counties with sales of methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

“They used contraband cell phones to extend the reach of their drug trafficking activity from that prison to the streets of Kings and Tulare counties,” an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Ryan Steger says.

Two of the defendants charged in the complaints – Salvador Castro Jr., known as “The Old Man,” and Raymond Lopez – are considered high-ranking members of the Nuestra Familia gang, which was formed in 1968 in Folsom State Prison, the affidavit says.

“Its formation grew out of the abuse and victimization some Hispanic inmates were suffering at the hand of the dominant prison gang at the time, the Mexican Mafia,” the affidavit says.

Now, that gang and others are believed to be using contraband cell phones to control narcotics sales using associates outside the prisons.

U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott is expected to announce the charges at a news conference in Hanford on Wednesday.

But details in the newly unsealed documents say investigators began using wiretaps in March to investigate the activities of the NF prison gang and the Norteno street gang.

From March through this month authorities have seized multiple pounds of methamphetamine and other drugs during vehicle stops law enforcement agencies made in the Central Valley after listening in on wiretapped phone calls, the affidavit says.

The investigation is the latest effort to disrupt the gang’s activities in California, where about 2,500 members of the Norteno street gang ages 12 to 40 are believed to live in Kings County, court documents say.

A similar effort in 2013 led to the arrest of 17 gang members who faced charges ranging from attempted murder to arson, court documents say.

“After the investigation was complete, Norteno crime subsided for a short period of time” the affidavit says. “Since 2014, an increase in violence, possession of guns and possession and sale of narcotics has been observed among the Norteno criminal street gang within Kings County.”

The latest charges follow an announcement on June 6 by federal officials that they had broken up operations inside other state prisons that included drug sales, cell phone smuggling and orders to kill other inmates and individuals outside of prisons.

Those charges involved 16 defendants, including two who are believed to be among the ruling “commissioners” of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.