More than 120 law enforcement officers carrying shotguns and automatic weapons stormed a La Habra industrial complex and other businesses and residences in Orange County early Tuesday after a 10-month federal drug investigation, an FBI spokesman said.
Three suspects were arrested and another remained at large after U.S. Magistrate Ronald W. Rose in Santa Ana authorized members of a federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force to make the arrests and search 17 businesses and residences, officials said.
Agents seized guns, expensive imported cars, cash and an unknown amount of cocaine after the raids were conducted, said Fred Reagan, an FBI spokesman.
In addition to the FBI, officers from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, La Habra Police Department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms joined in the raid.
Other participating agencies included the Anaheim, Brea, Garden Grove and Newport Beach police departments and Riverside County Sheriff's Department, San Jacinto Police Department and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
"We won't know how much cocaine, cash and weapons we have until a full inventory is completed," Reagan said, estimating that an inventory would take a day to finish.
Hours after the raid, while a police helicopter buzzed overhead, workers at the Lambert-Palm Business Center, 605 S. Palm St., recalled seeing "swarms" of police tear down a door and smash windows to gain access to an office-warehouse facility believed to be a drug lab.
An undetermined amount of cocaine was taken inside the complex after police pried open one of three metal safes, officials said.
Meanwhile, police accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs made similar raids, awakening neighbors near the homes of suspects in La Habra, Brea and Anaheim.
Shawn Tully Smith, 25, of Brea was arrested and arraigned on federal charges of conspiracy and distribution of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a high school.
Reagan said he was uncertain whether any high school students were Smith's clients. Under federal statute, selling cocaine next to a high school carries a stiffer penalty.
It was not immediately known what role Smith may have played in the alleged conspiracy. Neighbors in the comfortable middle-class Brea neighborhood said Smith lived with another, older man.
Smith faces a maximum sentence of 45 years and a $50,000 fine. His bail was set at $25,000.
Also arrested were Dean Louis Nicoletti, 28, of La Habra and Anthony Leonard Natale, age unknown, of Anaheim. Both were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
The three suspects were arrested at their residences without incident, Reagan said.
William Thomas Natale, 43, of La Habra, a brother of Anthony Natale, remained a fugitive Tuesday. More arrests are pending, Reagan said.
Neighbors in a condominium complex where William Natale lived recalled hearing police knock on Natale's front door early Tuesday before they swarmed into an upstairs condominium.
Greg Garrett, who lives in a downstairs condominium, said Natale had moved in less than six months ago. Other than loud noises at night, Natale was a friendly neighbor who didn't spend too much time there during the day, Garrett said.
Before leaving, police boarded up the front door with plywood, he said.
At the La Habra industrial complex, police used sledgehammers to smash doors and windows to enter four units at the facility, which is next to Sonora High School.
Jeff Simpson, 20, who works in a nearby metal shop, said Tuesday that he first noticed heavily armed police arriving about 7:30 a.m.
"They came in with sledgehammers backed up by lots and lots of SWAT officers. They went through that building so fast that before I knew it, they were coming out already," Simpson said.
Workers at an adjacent shop said no one had been seen inside the four units in at least three days.
No arrests were made at the Palm Street address, but police did seize an expensive imported car that was parked inside one of the units.
Police had search warrants, and it was not immediately known why sledgehammers were used. Reagan said he was unaware that such police force was used but added that with narcotics investigations, "time is of the essence."
"Also, narcotic suspects have a tendency to booby-trap their facilities," he explained.