Comments Off on 17 charged in “Operation Red Reach” meth bust

Seventeen people, including an alleged leader of a local Norteños gang, were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that they were part of a major methamphetamine ring operating in Contra Costa County, authorities said today.

The 16 men and one woman were charged Thursday in U.S. District Court in Oakland with methamphetamine dealing and conspiracy. Many have since pleaded not guilty.

All but one of the defendants has been arrested, and an additional 18 suspects are in custody and could face state charges as the result of a two-year, multi-agency investigation, dubbed Operation Red Reach.

If convicted, some defendants face mandatory minimum sentences of five, 10 or 20 years.

Investigators “disrupted an extremely dangerous and ruthless network of individuals,” said Larry Wallace, deputy director of law enforcement for state Attorney General Kamala Harris.Authorities seized more than 135 pounds of methamphetamine worth $7.1 million on the street, as well as 26 guns, six bulletproof vests and more than $86,500 in cash, said Steve Ladeck, special agent in charge of the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement in San Francisco.

The case initially began as a “grassroots, local investigation” in San Pablo, said Walt Schuld, that city’s police chief. “However, investigators quickly realized that it was more than a typical drug investigation,” with suspects that traveled across the county and beyond, Schuld said.

The defendants were charged as a result of a monthlong investigation that involved wiretaps and surveillance, according to court affidavits by FBI Special Agent Patrick Ernst. Search warrants were served in San Pablo, Richmond, El Sobrante, Pinole, Antioch, Pittsburg, San Rafael, Vallejo, Fairfield and Sacramento.

The investigation centered on alleged local Norteño gang leader Joseph Abbate, 38, and Ramon Rubio, authorities said.

The other defendants are Sean Wayne Beckett, 35; Mark Joseph Bruno; Reginald Shaun Carter, 46; Tom Lee Cordova Sr., 46; Billie Wayne Dempsey Sr., 61; Edward Santos Espiritu, 36; James Calma Esver, 43; Michael Joseph Lawrence, 46; Honorato Esquivias Padilla, 22; Deonzelle Antonio Pierce; David Leo Reams; Gary Clayton Rondeau, 50; Michael Jacob Sanchez, 35; Magen Marie Schwartz; and Juan Jesus Villalobos Lopez.

Schwartz, the only woman facing charges, has not been arrested and is a fugitive, said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.

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