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Coordinated weekend raids net 17 drug-related arrests

Seventeen people were arrested Saturday morning in Merced after narcotics officers swooped in on an apartment complex at East Main and G streets. The arrests are part of a six-week investigation covering Merced and Stanislaus counties.

Merced County Sheriff's Department Deputy Paul Barile, who oversees the Narcotics Enforcement Team, said 38 deputies and detectives, along with five state parole officers, served four search warrants at the apartments and another one at a house on West 19th Street.

Barile said almost two ounces of methamphetamine and $700 in cash were seized during the raid, which began at 7:30 a.m. and concluded at 10 a.m. About $7,000 worth of jewelry stolen Feb. 18 from La Perla Jewelry & Gifts at 29 E. 16th St. were recovered, along with stolen mail and checks being manufactured as part of an identity theft operation.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said more arrests should be expected in the next few weeks as part of Operation Spring Clean-Up.

"The community's tired of assorted crimes such as graffiti vandals, property theft and shootings," Pazin said. "They are dealing drugs in broad daylight. We need to get these thugs off the street."

Pazin said Saturday's operation was part of a one-two punch that the sheriff's department was doing. Between Friday in Delhi and Saturday in Merced, Pazin said about 30 people were arrested.

Over the last 30 days, Barile said, the NET team and Sheriff's Tactical and Reconnaissance Team members have served about two dozen search warrants and made more than 40 arrests in Merced and Stanislaus counties, along with multiple undercover drug purchases. Officers are focusing on top-level drug manufacturers, mid-level and street-level drug dealers.

As a result of the stepped-up arrests, meth is becoming harder to acquire and more expensive on the street. A gram of meth that used to cost $80 to $110 now costs $180, Barile said.

"We've been busy cleaning house," Barile said. "This has worked out great over the last 30 days."

Barile said deputies watched narcotics sales going on for two weeks at the Main and G streets apartment complex. Thirteen of the 21 apartments at the complex were searched.

"It (drug sales) was blatantly being done; it was unbelievable," Barile said.

Dell Humbert, 40, of Merced was arrested at a West 19th Street home after a search warrant was served there. Barile characterized Humbert as a mid-level meth dealer who was supplying the G Street apartment complex. An ounce of meth, drug money, digital scales and packaging materials were seized at Humbert's house.

Jeremy Bond, 26, and Bernadette Martinez, 32, were arrested on charges of receiving stolen property and manufacturing fictitious documents. Jerry Armenta, 26, of Merced was arrested on charges of possession of methamphetamine for sale. He had just gotten off parole March 2, Barile said.

Names of others arrested weren't available Sunday night.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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