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Merced County suspects make first court appearances since massive gang sweep

"Operation Scrapbook" nets 50 gang associates, money, drugs and guns in Merced County

Merced County District Attorney, Larry D. Morse II, holds a news conference at the Merced County Emergency Operations Center following "Operation Scrapbook" in Merced County, Calif., on May 10, 2017. The operation involved local, state and federal
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Merced County District Attorney, Larry D. Morse II, holds a news conference at the Merced County Emergency Operations Center following "Operation Scrapbook" in Merced County, Calif., on May 10, 2017. The operation involved local, state and federal

Nearly a dozen defendants swept up in “Operation Scrapbook” – a series of dozens of gang raids coordinated by local, state and federal law enforcement that netted more than 50 arrests on Wednesday – made their first appearance Thursday in federal court to answer drug and weapons charges.

The 11 men appeared before Judge Stanley A. Boone to be assigned defense attorneys. The U.S. Attorney’s Office requested a detention hearing to determine whether the defendants should remain in custody or be released pending trial, according to Deb Duckett-Morris, secretary to U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.

Duckett-Morris told the Sun-Star a prosecutor requested the detention hearing be scheduled between Friday and Tuesday.

The criminal complaint unsealed this week in U.S. District Court names 11 men as defendants in the months-long investigation. Two of the defendants, 22-year-old Robert “Bubba” Guthrie and 28-year-old Prado “Termite” Andres Corona, of Hughson, have been charged with gun and drug trafficking, conspiracy, unlawfully possessing guns, and more, according to the complaint.

The complaint details more than a dozen controlled purchases of guns, drugs or both allegedly from Guthrie in Atwater and Winton. Guthrie’s mother, sister and girlfriend also were arrested in Wednesday’s raids, authorities said.

The complaint also describes an instance where Orasio “Acho” Fierro, 24, drove to Turlock and Modesto to meet and purchase drugs from a supplier.

On May 1, federal agents intercepted a package containing a 231 grams of methamphetamine inside of a Teddy bear intended for Francisco “Bouncer” Salgado, who was convicted of a stabbing in 2009, according to the complaint.

Prior to intercepting the package, agents listened to Salgado’s phone calls through wire taps where Salgado was told the drugs came “uncut” from Sinaloa and an associate who worked for the UPS could put them in the mail, the complaint says.

The complaint also names as a defendant Jose Rodriguez, and says he communicated with his brother Asuncion “Gato” or “Garfield” Rodriguez in jail. Asuncion was arrested and jailed in 2016 in connection to multiple Atwater shootings. At the time, police named him as a “ring leader” and “key player” in the town’s Sureño gang, Sun-Star archives show.

The complaint shows that investigators intercepted communication through Snapchat and Facebook accounts for Guthrie and several other suspects.

Merced Police Sgt. Rodney Court said high-tech intelligence drove the investigation.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II said since the arrests have been made, now the real work begins for his office.

Deputy District Attorneys Michael McKinney and Matthew Serratto have been working hard on the case since the arrest warrants were prepared, Morse said. Similar operations in the past, such as Operation Red Eye and Operation Red Right Hand, helped the prosecutors learn how to make the process more efficient.

Court said the goal is for many of those arrested Wednesday to do hard time.

“Our goal is to send people to state and federal prison for 25 years to life, not jail for 45 days,” he said.

Wednesday’s raids ended with more than 50 arrests and the recovery of 70 guns, 21,000 rounds of ammunition, 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine and more than $225,000.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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