By Nadin Abbott.
November 14, 2012 (San Diego)-- Today U.S. State Attorney Laura Duffy called a press conference to announce the arrest of six out of 10 suspects wanted by federal authorities in relation to running illegal marijuana farms on state and federal lands in the East County and Riverside County.
"Drug agents on routine aerial surveillance happened to spot and remove a marijuana farm in Julian in the summer of 2010," said Duffy, explaining how the operation started. after the “Chariot Canyon Grow” operation.
What was unusual about this raid, according to Duffy, is that "In this case agents found more than plants and farmers. They found cell phones."
This intelligence cache allowed officers in the Narcotics Task Force to start to put together how the Sotelo Organization worked.
The distribution of marijuana ranged all the way to Northern California, Idaho and Utah. There were also contacts in Mexico; the investigation continues on the Mexican side of the Border. When asked about possible links to cartels, Duffy said that there were no links found, but the investigation is continuing.
According to the press release, "A task force of local, state and federal law enforcement officials on Tuesday arrested six of 10 people charged. All are believed to be mid-level managers in the drug trafficking organization."
According to William Sherman, lead agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) , extremely good cooperation between local and Federal agents allowed for an investigation that netted "12 firearms, $237,000 in cash and 13 vehicles and 300 pounds of processed marijuana, ready for sale, with a street value of more than $300,000."
His advice to any person who may come across any of these growths in the back country is to not confront growers; instead call law enforcement. These operators are considered extremely dangerous. Moreover, when law enforcement raided one of these camps, a grower was on guard duty with a shotgun. One of the people arrested yesterday had a shotgun and ammunition in the vehicle in which he tried to flee. Lastly, another had an automatic clad in gold with the insignia of the "Santa Muerte," which means holy death.
The Santa Muerte is a cult followed by many drug traffickers, especially in Mexico. They claim not to fear death and to actually worship it. This makes them very dangerous.
The farms over the last two years were found at Chariot Canyon (Julian), Benton Grow (Riverside), Farmer Grow (Julian), Pala Grow (Valley Center), Triste's Grow (Pala), Cholo's Grow (Palomar Mountain), Sunrise Grow (Julian) and Vineyard Grow (Cleveland National Forest.)
These marijuana cultivations also create environmental damage to public lands due to the use of banned pesticides, plus many of the farmers poach wild life to supplement their diet. So this is an environmental protection action as well.
The defendants are as follows:
In custody: Daniel Malaquita-Mendoza, Jose Villa-Garcia, Francisco Villaseñor-Ortiz, Miguel Mendoza-Mendoza, John Phillip Lombardo and Roberto Valencia-Martinez.
Still wanted and presumed to be in Mexico: Antioco Sotelo-Ayala, Juventino Artemio Sotelo and Adrian Chavez-Garduño.