Investigators arrested 52 gang members and seized 70 guns early Wednesday after hundreds of local, state, and federal investigators raided dozens of Merced County homes targeting Sureno gang members operating under the umbrella of the Mexican Mafia.
The nearly year-long investigation, dubbed “Operation Scrapbook,” netted more than $225,000 cash, 21,000 rounds of ammunition and 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine, authorities reported.
“Today we decided to rain on the Sureno parade,” Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told the Sun-Star.
Undercover operations began with surveillance as early as January when investigators used confidential sources to buy guns and drugs from local Sureno gang members’ whose communications on social media apps such as Snapchat and Facebook were being intercepted, according to a complaint filed Monday in federal court.
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“Today was a tremendous day for public safety in Merced County,” District Attorney Larry Morse II said at a news conference. “Some of the most violent criminals in our communities have been taken off our streets along with many of the weapons and substantial cash they use to commit murder and mayhem.”
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno named two men as defendants and outlined the events leading up to Wednesday’s raids, including gun and drug purchases from gang members, wiretapped conversations and an intercepted package at a post office with a Teddy bear full of methamphetamine.
The 99-page complaint charges 22-year-old Robert “Bubba” Guthrie and 28-year-old Andres Corona Prado with gun and drug trafficking, conspiracy, unlawfully possessing guns and more. Nine additional people are named as defendants in the complaint.
More than 500 law enforcement officials from the FBI, the state Department of Justice, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office, local police departments and more descended about 6 a.m. Wednesday on multiple communities, primarily in Atwater and Winton, to serve search warrants and make arrests.
The raids included helicopters and SWAT teams. Those arrested were fingerprinted and booked at a command post at Castle Commerce Center.
Officials said the operation went off without a hitch. Not one shot was fired, and no injuries were reported, Morse said. “That is the definition of a successful operation,” he said.
Investigators targeted local Sureno gangs, such as the A-Town Locs, Delhi Ghost Town Surenos, South Side Locs, Los Primos, Planet Sur Trece, Winton Vario Parque, Territorio Sur Trece, Willow Street and Bonsallo Locos Surenos, according to the complaint.
Wednesday’s raids were similar to a 2015 case that targeted Norteno gangs in Merced County, Operation Red Right Hand.
Since that operation, Surenos “...have had influx and have become more brazen in typically Norteno territory strong-holds,” the complaint says. The Merced County Sureno gangs, namely the A-Town Locs where Guthrie has influence, began working closer with the Mexican Mafia, known as “Le Eme.”
“This restructuring of the Sureno criminal street gangs and aligning together has allowed the Sureno criminal street gangs in Merced County to become more organized, powerful and to generate money for the Mexican Mafia,” the complaint says.
Over the course of the months-long investigation, 16 acts of violence were prevented, Morse said. At least 20 gun transactions also were interrupted.
One of those incidents was a high-speed pursuit that ended in a manhunt near the Franklin area in late March.
High-tech intelligence and collaboration between federal, state and local agencies as well as the county’s VIPER program, made the operation possible, officials said.
Merced Police Sgt. Rod Court, who works with the Merced Area Gang and Narcotics Enforcement Team, said the name of the operation was a combination of the Sureno gang nickname and the social media platforms it uses.
“Just like everyone else, these gang members use these mediums to share information and express themselves,” Court said.
Guthrie was named as a person of interest early on in the investigation, Court said.
“He’s a walking billboard for A-Town,” Court said. “He’s the guy who sits back and has people do things for him. That’s the worst kind of criminal.”
Click here to learn about the next step in the case.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477