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Illusion of O.C. Good Life Shattered by Drug Charges : Crime: Flashy lifestyle of accused ring leaders raised no suspicion in upscale neighborhood. Couple deny charges.

December 17, 1995|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

YORBA LINDA — The pretentious display of wealth by Carlos and Adrianna Gonzales attracted much attention but little concern from neighbors in the upscale neighborhood in the 20000 block of Via Burgos.

The couple's decision to remodel their new home, which had never been lived in before, was seen as peculiar by some, but hardly worth more than a quick lift of an eyebrow. After all, one did not move into this community of $500,000 homes, located down the road from the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace, unless one could afford the real estate.

Nevertheless, there were constant reminders that Carlos, 29, and Adrianna, 25, had too much disposable income for a young married couple. Adrianna's hazy explanation that Carlos owned a successful business in Mexico only added to the mystery about their wealth. She never said exactly what kind of business her husband was in, said a neighbor.

On Oct. 23, all of the couple's secret lives were unveiled when Drug Enforcement Administration agents smashed the handsome hardwood doors and arrested Carlos and Adrianna. They were charged with heading a major cocaine distribution and money-laundering ring that authorities said shipped the drug to dealers in New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston and other cities, and had direct access to the Cali cartel in Colombia.

They pleaded not guilty at their arraignment.

Officials are not sure how long the ring was in existence, but said they were not surprised that the couple chose to operate out of an affluent Orange County community, where wealth, expensive homes and flashy cars seldom attract the suspicion of neighbors and law enforcement.

Rising to the leadership of an international cocaine ring, as officials charge, was a major step for Carlos Gonzales. Law enforcement sources allege he began his career as a small-time immigrant smuggler and marijuana transporter. In 1989, he was arrested by California Highway Patrol officers, who recovered 100 pounds of marijuana in Gonzales' car following a 100-mph chase. He was sentenced to a year in San Diego County Jail and deported after serving his sentence, law enforcement officials said.

Officials said in interviews and court records that Carlos Gonzales ran a violent organization and ordered a close associate who fell out of grace killed. The group counted some unlikely characters within its ranks, including an active duty Marine who was on the staff of a Marine general, and Adrianna, whose real last name is Ibarra.

"We were shocked. We knew there was something strange about them, but we never really figured them for drug dealers," said a neighbor who, like everybody else living on the street, requested anonymity. "The day before they were arrested, Adrianna walked through the neighborhood getting the names of all the children. She said she was putting together a special Halloween treat for each of them. Gosh, I hope the DEA doesn't think that the kids' names is a list of Adrianna's and Carlos' drug customers."

Residents of the hilltop cul-de-sac gaped in disbelief as the couple were hauled off from their well-appointed home in handcuffs. Later, they were equally surprised upon learning that Carlos and Adrianna were not really married and together used at least eight aliases. Her real name is Martha Adrianna Ibarra and his is Carlos Ruben Hinojosa Gonzales.

Gonzales, Ibarra and eight others were named in an 18-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court in November, charging them with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. All are being held without bail, except for one defendant who remains a fugitive and another who was released on bail.

Almost everyone on the street knew that Adrianna, who looked younger than her age, was the sole owner of the house. The property was unencumbered of liens and transferred to her without compensation by a San Diego attorney. Neighbors interviewed for this story agree that it was unusual for someone so young to own such an expensive home, but before the arrests, nobody's suspicions were raised, not even those of the three cops and retired deputy sheriff who live on the street.

Neighbors and contractors said that Gonzales and Ibarra played the role of a wealthy Orange County couple convincingly.

Shortly after moving into the 3,800-square-foot house, she had the kitchen gutted and new cabinets and granite counter tops installed. The new carpeting downstairs was ripped out and replaced with hardwood floors. The foyer was tiled with Italian marble. Contractors said in interviews they were paid with cash or cashier's checks, sometimes drawn on Mexican banks.

Gonzales drove a black 1994 Mercedes, while Ibarra cruised around in a gray 1995 Mercedes. In addition, Carlos liked to play in a $60,000 ski boat and 400-horsepower 1996 Porsche that sold for $100,000. A total of 10 cars and a boat were seized by DEA agents.

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