FRESNO, Calif. – Federal and local investigators, including special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), fanned out across Fresno Thursday morning to arrest 29 defendants suspected of trafficking drugs and weapons on behalf of a local street gang.
The arrests follow a 10-month multiagency probe that, according to court documents, linked the various defendants to multiple sales of methamphetamine, cocaine, and firearms between January and August 2017. In addition to drug and weapons trafficking, members of the street gang are also accused of engaging in commercial prostitution and transporting women across state lines for that purpose.
At a news conference Friday morning, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California and representatives from the agencies involved in the probe - including HSI, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Fresno Police Department - outlined the results of this week’s enforcement actions.
“This operation demonstrates how law enforcement partners at the federal, state and local level are working as one to pursue criminal gangs and their associates,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. “All of these agencies will work tirelessly to protect our communities and to hold accountable those who threaten our safety.”
Authorities advise 15 of those arrested Thursday are among the 18 defendants named in a 104-page criminal complaint stemming from the case. The remaining 14 individuals who were taken into custody Thursday are being charged with state violations. In addition to the arrests, law enforcement personnel executed nine search warrants and multiple probation and parole searches targeting gang members and their associates. To date, the probe has resulted in the seizure of more than 30 firearms and multiple pounds of methamphetamine.
“Drug, firearms and human trafficking bring blight to the community and tear at the fabric of society,” said John J. Martin, special agent in charge for DEA. “DEA will continue to conduct investigations with our counterparts that send the message these activities will not be tolerated in our neighborhoods.”
“The FBI is dedicated to working with all law enforcement partners to effectively target gang violence in all of its forms,” said Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “We are committed to keeping illegal firearms and drugs off of our streets and preventing victimization to ensure a brighter future for our community’s families.”
“Firearms trafficking is one of the most pressing issues today,” said Jill Snyder, special agent in charge for ATF, San Francisco Field Division. “It is our duty to make this community a safer place for families. The safety of the public is at the core of ATF’s mission and through partnerships, law enforcement agencies create a unified front against violent crime, which make operations of this nature successful.”
All of those charged in the federal criminal complaint are Fresno residents. They include: Carlos Montano, 27; Filibert Chavez, 35; Robin Gill, 31; Gabriel Gomez, 26; Juan Carlos Briceno, 36; Nicholas Bolanos, 25; Daniel Villanueva, 19; Gerrick Travis Tyrell Franklin, 27; Amina Padilla, 34; Robert Lockhart, 52; Idelfonso Soto, 19; Carlos Melgar, 36; Jeni Fries, 23; Cisco Hernandez, 23; Miguel Murrillo, 22; Adolfo Jesus Mendoza, 23; Jesus Melgarejo Jr., 26; and Cesar Gutierrez, 24.
All of the defendants are in custody except Gabriel Gomez, Daniel Villanueva, and Gerrick Travis Tyrell Franklin. If convicted of the current charges, several of the federal defendants face mandatory minimum prison terms of 10 years and maximum sentences of life.
The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition to the law enforcement agencies noted previously, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, the Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC), and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also aided with this investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly A. Sanchez and Jeffrey Spivak are prosecuting the case.
This case was part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). The OCDETF program was established in 1982 to conduct comprehensive, multilevel attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.