LOS ANGELES – Four Southern California men were charged yesterday with a federal drug trafficking offense in relation to the seizure of approximately one ton of marijuana that was discovered Tuesday on a 30-foot fishing boat in Long Beach. The interdiction represents the third major local maritime smuggling incident in the last month and brings the total amount of marijuana seized to over three tons.
Omar Quintero, 28, of Los Angeles, Miguel Angel Quintero Jr., 38, also of Los Angeles; Eliasib Ventura, 34, of Alhambra; and Jonathan Ventura, 31, of Pomona, were taken into custody Tuesday afternoon and were named in a one-count criminal complaint filed yesterday in United States District court. The four defendants made their initial appearances late Wednesday before United States Magistrate Judge Alka Sagar, who ordered the detention of three of the men and ordered the release of Omar Quintero on a $50,000 bond. All four defendants are scheduled to be arraigned next month.
The four men were arrested Tuesday afternoon after officers with the Long Beach Police Department's Port Police Division alerted Los Angeles Border Enforcement Security Task Force (LA BEST) investigators that they had spotted a truck that was the subject of an LA BEST lookout. The truck was hooked to a fishing boat on a trailer at the South Shores launch ramp in Long Beach. LA BEST investigators, including special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), responded to the launch ramp area, searched the vessel and found bundles of marijuana inside, according to court documents.
If the four defendants are convicted of conspiracy with the intent to distribute marijuana, each would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
“As drug traffickers continue to use our waters for smuggling, law enforcement will continue to interdict them,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “These arrests and seizures demonstrate the commitment and cooperation across all levels of law enforcement to stemming the flow of drugs into the United States, by whatever means.”
Tuesday's arrests and seizure came just one day after HSI special agents recovered 44 bundles of marijuana weighing approximately 3,000 pounds on Santa Rosa Island in Channel Island National Park. LA BEST investigators believe the marijuana may be related to an abandoned Mexican panga discovered by Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputies on Gaviota Beach in Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon.
The third recent maritime marijuana interdiction occurred on September 23 after lifeguards with the Long Beach Fire Department on marine patrol spotted a pleasure craft in distress. The lifeguards made contact with the 20-foot vessel and observed suspicious activity on board. The vessel was towed to the launch ramp at Davies Landing, where it was met by officers from the Long Beach Police Department. An inspection of the boat turned up numerous packages of marijuana weighing more than 1,100 pounds. HSI special agents and LA BEST officers arrested Fernando Rodriguez-Fonseca, 39, and Enrique Mendoza-Rodriguez, 47, both Mexican nationals, at the scene for trafficking in marijuana. Evidence indicates Rodriguez-Fonseca and Mendoza-Rodriguez had sailed from the area of Ensenada, Mexico, to Long Beach.
A federal grand jury returned an indictment on October 11 that charges Rodriguez-Fonseca and Mendoza-Rodriguez with conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana. Both defendants were arraigned on the indictment on Monday, when they pleaded not guilty and were ordered to stand trial on December 6 in United Stated District Court. If they are convicted of the two charges in the indictment each defendant would face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
“This sudden surge in local maritime smuggling activity is definitely a cause for concern,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “By using pleasure craft to ferry contraband, smugglers believe they can more easily blend in with legitimate boating traffic along the Southern California coast, which is all the more reason we need the public to remain vigilant and contact law enforcement if they see anything suspicious.”
Both a criminal complaint and an indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The case against the four defendants charged this week is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Karen E. Escalante of the General Crimes Section. The two-defendant case stemming from the September seizure is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Rebecca Shults of the General Crimes Section.
LA BEST received substantial assistance with these cases from the Long Beach Police Department; the Long Beach Fire Department; the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; the United States Coast Guard; the National Park Service; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Operations; and the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
LA BEST is tasked with identifying, targeting, and reducing security vulnerabilities affecting the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex, the Southern California coastline, and the waterways and transportation infrastructure that tie into them. The Task Force is made up of personnel from nine federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard Criminal Investigations Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Port Police, the Long Beach Police Department, and the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Tuesday's Seizure Follows Two Other Recent Southern California Incidents that Together Yielded more than Three Tons of Marijuana Being Smuggled via Boats
USAO – California, Central Updated October 28, 2016
Central District of California DOJ / 16-266 / October 27, 2016