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11 arrested in probe targeting major Central Valley-based drug trafficking ring

MODESTO, Calif. — A total of 11 criminal suspects are in custody following the execution Wednesday morning of federal search and arrest warrants in conjunction with a joint state and federal probe targeting a Modesto-area narcotics ring that authorities allege trafficked large quantities of methamphetamine and marijuana.

Wednesday's enforcement actions are the latest development in a year-long multiagency investigation conducted by the California Department of Justice's Mountain and Valley Marijuana Investigation Team (MAVMIT) under the auspices of the Central Valley HIDTA High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Program. Agencies participating in the probe include, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigations; the Placer County District Attorney's Office; the California Department of Corrections, Office of Correctional Safety, Special Services Unit (SSU); the sheriff's offices from Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento counties; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife; and the California National Guard Counter Drug Taskforce. The prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California.

Wednesday's arrests occurred as federal and state investigators – together with HSI, state and local tactical teams – conducted searches at more than two dozen locations throughout the Central Valley, including two ranches in rural Stanislaus County authorities suspect were tied to the drug trafficking scheme. During the searches, authorities encountered five indoor marijuana grow operations, including one with more than 2,100 plants. In addition, investigators seized a shotgun, two handguns, nearly 60 pounds of processed marijuana and more than $20,000 in cash.

Authorities emphasize investigators are still processing several of the search locations, so additional seizures and arrests are possible.

Of the 11 individuals detained by mid-day Wednesday on criminal violations, six are facing federal charges. The five remaining criminal suspects will likely be prosecuted for state offenses. In addition to the criminal arrests, investigators detained another 20 individuals encountered at the search locations on administrative immigration violations.

Authorities allege the drug trafficking organization targeted in the probe was cultivating marijuana and distributing methamphetamine. Evidence uncovered during the investigation indicates the ring used sophisticated methods to conceal and smuggle the contraband, including commercial trucks with hollowed out drive shafts and vehicles equipped with hidden compartments.