SACRAMENTO — An investigation into a Mexican-based drug trafficking operation that began a year ago in Sacramento County climaxed Aug. 19 in Gilroy when law enforcement officers seized methamphetamine with an estimated street value of $80 million to $100 million.
Lt. Fred Links, commander of the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's multiagency drug task forces, said a single-family residence in Gilroy is believed to have been the primary distribution hub for the Sacramento region, the Central Valley and perhaps communities as far away as the East Coast.
"It was as if they had an assembly line for each stage of manufacturing or production in each room of the house," Links said during a Thursday evening news conference.
Assisted by agents from the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement and Gilroy police officers, the Sacramento sheriff's teams served search warrants at five residences in Sacramento County and one in Modesto as well as the Gilroy house.
Cocaine and cash, too
But Gilroy was where Links said officers seized 459 pounds of crystal methamphetamine, including raw methamphetamine in various stages of conversion to crystal, or "ice." They seized 15 pounds of cocaine, which was being packaged in kilo and half-kilo amounts. Officers found two firearms and $35,000 in cash.
Links said it was the biggest seizure he had seen in 31 years with the Sheriff's Department.
Three people were arrested as a result of the searches, all at the Gilroy house. All are Mexican nationals, who Links said are believed to hold mid- or upper-level positions in the distribution operation.
Taken into custody were Fabian Figueroa Ayala, 28; Hector Borraya Salazar, 43; and Sergio Murillo Valencia, 35.
Links said all had Mexican identification documents that were recovered during the arrest. They were booked at the Santa Clara County jail on suspicion of possession for sale of methamphetamine and for manufacturing. Immigration holds have been placed on all three by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They will be transferred to Sacramento County in a few days.
Residences held record
Links said the houses searched in Modesto and Sacramento County were primarily homes for family members of people believed to be involved in the local distribution operations. Those searches, he said, yielded records of the activities.
Links said the investigation began in Sacramento about this time last year when an undercover officer made a transaction with a low-level player in the drug operation.
Through surveillance and investigations, he said, law enforcement officers worked their way up the drug organization's chain of command, tracing the ringleaders to Mexico.
He said the Mexican government typically does not cooperate in such investigations and arrests are unlikely to occur south of the border.
"We hit the gold pot at the end of the rainbow," Links said of last Thursday's drug seizures and arrests.
Although this may put a crimp in drug operations in the Sacramento region for a while, he said, it's just a matter of time before some other group steps in.