Over 750 law enforcement personnel arrested 31 people on drug and weapons charges in coordinated sweeps across 10 Northern California counties last Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials said those arrested are connected to a violent, drug-peddling street gang that was being run from inside California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.
Early last Wednesday, a coalition of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers conducted 69 searches pursuant to federal warrants and parole or probation search conditions at various locations throughout Northern California. No one was injured in the course of the operation.
Officers arrested 18 individuals on charges alleged in six separate federal indictments and one federal criminal complaint that were unsealed last week, the FBI said in a press release. Two of them were residents of the City of Colusa. Three additional, related criminal complaints were filed last week, one in the Eastern District of California, one in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and one in the District of Oregon, the FBI said.
Local officials arrested 11 additional individuals on state charges as part of the operation.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Silent Night,” was led by the FBI, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the Woodland Police Department. It focused on coordinated criminal activity that centered in Yolo County but extended to other Northern California counties – including Colusa – and Northern California prisons. The Colusa County Sheriff’s Office was among a multitude of agencies who provided substantial assistance to the operation, the FBI said.
Operation Silent Night was the culmination of a months-long investigation into a subgroup of the Norteno street gang based out of Woodland, known as Varrio Bosque Norteno, law enforcement officials said at a press conference at the Eastern District Federal Court in Sacramento on Wednesday.
“A violent criminal organization, which started out in Woodland years ago and spread throughout Northern California, faced a day of reckoning today,” California U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said at the press conference. “…The multitude of charges principally involves the organized sales and distribution of methamphetamine and heroin, as well as felons in possession of firearms.”
Scott said that one of the principal tools used by law enforcement were federal wiretaps for social media sites, on which many of those charged were “openly selling methampetamine and other drugs.” He added that drugs (including several hundred pounds of marijuana), $71,500 in cash, and 34 firearms were seized as a result of the searches last Wednesday.
Officials said that Varrio Bosque Norteno’s operations were directed by two inmates at Pelican Bay, who used smuggled cellphones to communicate from inside the prison, federal and state officials said. Pelican Bay inmates Patrick Botello, 31, and Ricardo Villa, 39, are charged with drug trafficking and using a cellphone to direct drug trafficking in and out of prison.
“These prison gangs rely on street gangs in communities to continue their criminal activities,” said Secretary Scott Kernan, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “They further their criminal enterprises through intimidation, fear, and violence, and are shattering lives around the country. As evidenced in this operation, the use of contraband cellphones by inmates to prey on our citizens and advance criminal enterprises has reached alarming levels nationwide.”
The two Colusa residents arrested were Mercedez Silva-Sims, 21, and Joshua Sims, 24. Silva-Sims was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing methamphetamine and heroin, and using a cellphone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense.
Sims was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, attempted distribution of methamphetamine, using a cellphone to facilitate a drug trafficking offense, and distribution of cocaine.■