30 arrested in Thursday gang crackdown

Posted: 13th June 2011 by Doc in Uncategorized
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Law enforcement gave a warning to local Norteño street gang members Thursday, June 9, in the form of a multiagency sweep that lead to the arrest of dozens of high- to mid-level gang organizers.

“This is the sixth operation in Northern California … and we’re not done,” said Chief John Gaines of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotics.

He said anyone that is a Norteño gang member in Tracy should ask themselves if they think they are next.

“I assure you,” he said, “you are.”

Dubbed Operation Gateway, local, state and federal agencies swooped down on Tracy gang members beginning early Thursday. Over several hours, officers netted 30 gang members, including the man considered to be the leader of the local gang, John Pantoja.

“We took off the head of that organization,” Tracy Police Gangs and Narcotics Enforcement Team Sgt. Terry Miller said. “Hopefully, we can continue the pressure (on gangs).”

Deputy District Attorney Mark Dennings said some of the people arrested already had two criminal strikes against them and were likely looking at 25 years to life if convicted. Others, he said, were likely to receive double-digit prison sentences if found guilty.

Tracy Police Department Chief Janet Thiessen said the 11-month investigation took thousands of hours of manpower. Thiessen said that, though the department was “very familiar with” most of the people arrested Thursday, it took the better part of a year for cops to build cases that would result in the suspects facing significant prison time.

She said the bust made Tracy a safer place to live, adding that the people arrested were responsible for a large chunk of the violent crime, as well as weapons and drug activity, that Tracy experiences.

Seized in the operation was a pound of methamphetamine and 11 firearms.

“The credit really goes to our gang and narcotics team,” said Thiessen, who stressed while Tracy police put in the vast majority of the work in the operation, the strategy, experience and personnel of the Department of Justice and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were invaluable in pulling off the Thursday raid.

Operation Gateway started around 7 a.m., with members of various law enforcement agencies — including the Department of Justice; California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement; Bureau of Alcoholic, Tobacco and Firearms; Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations Special Services Unit; and S.W.A.T. teams from Tracy, Modesto and Manteca — serving arrest warrants to more than 25 people.

The majority of the arrests were made in Tracy, but two warrants were also served in Manteca and one each in the communities of Stockton and San Leandro.

Thiessen said the investigation showed how the Tracy gang members were spreading their tentacles to people in adjacent communities throughout the Central Valley. Authorities said they could also be linked to international drug trafficking.

Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement special agent Dan Garbutt said catching the gang members was a game of cat and mouse. He said they primarily deal in drug sales, and Tracy’s members were likely selling a couple pounds of methamphetamine, usually crystal meth, in Tracy every month.

The street value of a pound of methamphetamine can range between $40,000 and $50,000, officials said. A drug container the size of a sugar packet can be valued at $100 on the street.

“The Tracy community has always had high expectations to be a safe community,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Maciel said during a media conference. “At times when people asked, ‘Why weren’t the police doing more?’ they were, but it was behind the scenes.”

He said an investigation of this magnitude had to be kept confidential. Thiessen agreed, saying talking about such investigations before they’re completely carried out can harm the work being done.

“Tracy is safer because of this operation,” Thiessen said.

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