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'Operation Red Reaper' Busts Massive Nuestra Familia-Norteño Prison Gang Drug Network

FRESNO (CBS SF) -- A state, local and federal undercover action named 'Operation Red Reaper' has busted a major methamphetamine distribution and violent crime network controlled by the Norteño street gang and the Nuestra Familia prison gang, authorities announced Wednesday.

The ten-month operation that began in September 2018 resulted in the arrest of 54 individuals and the seizure of 53 firearms and over 36 pounds of drugs in Kings and Tulare counties, according to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California McGregor Scott, Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, and Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever.

Pleasant Valley State Prison
Pleasant Valley State Prison (CDCR)

Investigators said the gang's alleged criminal activities included murder, drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, and the manufacture, trafficking, and possession of illegal firearms.

"The fear and violence that criminal street gangs are perpetrating in our communities cannot be tolerated," Becerra said. "We will continue to collaborate with our federal and local partners to reduce crime and keep our communities safe."

"We are committed to combatting and reducing violent crime and drug trafficking, both inside and outside of prison walls," Scott added.

Between 2015 and 2019, the cities of Hanford, Kettleman City, and Avenal in the Central Valley experienced an increase in unsolved homicides. These homicides were believed to be gang-related and to possibly involve members of the Norteño gang.

"Many people worked countless hours to bring these criminals to justice," Sever said. "Their arrests today will result in a safer community for all of our residents."

The defendants charged federally in Tulare County included:

  • 1) SALVADOR CASTRO, JR., 49, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
  • 2) RAYMOND LOPEZ, 31, of Pleasant Valley State Prison
  • 3) JESSE JUAREZ, 28, of Visalia
  • 4) DANIEL JUAREZ, 27, of Visalia
  • 5) MICHAEL ROCHA, 36, of Visalia
  • 6) ANGEL MONTES, 23, of Visalia
  • 7) RAFAEL LOPEZ, 28, of Visalia
  • 8) MANUEL BARRERA, 24, of Kettleman City
  • 9) MANUEL GARCIA, 33, of Armona
  • 10) JOANN BERNAL, 32, of Armona
  • 11) RAMON AMADOR, 29, of Riverdale
  • 12) RAUL LOPEZ, JR., 48, of Visalia
  • 13) DONAVEN ADKINS, 41, of Hanford
  • 14) RYAN GINES, 39, of Armona
  • 15) DOUG GINES, 48, of Hanford
  • 16) FLORENTINO GUTIERREZ, 37, of Hanford
  • 17) JESUS NUNEZ, 19, of McFarland
  • 18) MARIA NUNEZ, 22, of McFarland
  • 19) LOUIS MOLINA, 48, of Hanford
  • 20) ERNESTO ZIBRAY, 30, of Delano
  • 21) TIFFANY FELLER, 31, of Riverdale

All 21 of the listed defendants have been arrested. If convicted, they face a range of maximum sentences, including up to life in prison. Several of the defendants also face a range of mandatory minimum sentences ranging from between five to ten years in prison.

According to court documents, high-ranking Nuestra Familia members Salvador Castro, Jr. and Raymond Lopez used contraband cell phones from inside Fresno County's Pleasant Valley State Prison to arrange the transport of illicit narcotics from drug sources in California and Mexico to a stash house in Kings County.

From that stash house, gang members outside of the prison coordinated the preparation and delivery of the drugs to distributors throughout Kings and Tulare Counties.

The complaint charges several other gang associates, including Angel Montes, Rafael Lopez, Daniel Juarez, Manuel Barrerra, Manuel Garcia, Joann Bernal, Ramon Amador, and Raul Lopez, Jr. with federal drug-distribution crimes.

The prison gang bust is the second such action at California prison in two weeks. Earlier this month, members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang were charged with directing killings and drug smuggling from within the state's most secure prisons.

Despite its racist philosophy, the white supremacist gang had a drug smuggling partnership with the Mexican Mafia, prosecutors said.

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