A North Orange County Municipal Court judge on Tuesday ordered trial for seven South Americans arrested in the state's largest cocaine seizure but released two other suspects because of insufficient evidence.
Judge Richard L. Weatherspoon said motions will be heard and a trial date set on May 12.
Tuesday's ruling concluded the 12-day preliminary hearing for the defendants, who were arrested April 4 in Anaheim, Placentia and Fullerton. Los Angeles police narcotics agents, who conducted several raids that night, confiscated 1,784 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of $500 million, and $730,000 in cash.
Ten people were arrested the night of the raids. But one suspect, Colombian Elkin Guarin, 28, was released last week when an analysis of seven grams of white powder found at the time of the arrest proved it was not cocaine.
Weatherspoon ruled Tuesday that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence to link Colombians Blas Rodriquez Sanchez, 43, and Maria Pinzon Sanchez, 24, to a cocaine smuggling conspiracy, as alleged by prosecutors. The two were arrested at 2008 Deer Park Lane in Fullerton, but agents found only ledgers at the location and no cocaine or money.
The seven defendants bound over for trial were Colombians Gonzalo Ruiz, 29; Fabio Ardila Dimate, 41; Florinda Suarez Prada, 25; Onelia Rita Arboleda, 24; Uldarico Cabuya, 34; Ecuadorean Juan Perez Sanchez, 29, and Venezuelan Clara Rubia Perez, 22.
Suarez Prada and Arboleda, whose attorneys claim the women did not know cocaine was being stored in their homes, sobbed when Weatherspoon ruled that there was sufficient evidence for them to be tried.
Weatherspoon also ordered the seven defendants to remain in the Orange County Jail on $4 million bail each.
Before ordering the seven suspects to stand trial, Weatherspoon denied motions by the defense attorneys to suppress the evidence. The attorneys had contended that the search warrants obtained to make the seizures and arrests were erratically prepared by investigators.
But the judge said that there "was no reckless" preparation of the search warrants and that there was sufficient evidence against the defendants, although surveillance of the suspects had been conducted for only two days before their arrests.
Defense attorney Stephan A. DeSales said the defense team was not surprised by Weatherspoon's ruling and added that attorneys had made a strong case for the defendants.
"Remember, this is only a preliminary hearing. I honestly believe that in the long run, we'll prove that some of these (defendants) have been (implicated) with guilt by association," he said.