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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

4 Arrested in Alleged Drug Ring; Meth Seized

Investigation: Authorities claim the operation was selling the illegal substance in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

April 05, 2001|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four people were arrested and 4 pounds of methamphetamine seized after a six-month investigation into a suspected drug ring that was selling large quantities of meth in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, authorities announced Wednesday.

The methamphetamine seizure, the largest in Ventura County this year, was valued by narcotics detectives at more than $100,000, and potentially worth thousands of dollars more when broken down into street-level quantities. Authorities also confiscated $93,000 in suspected drug proceeds.

"When you arrest individuals at this level," said Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Bustillos, "we make an impact because now street suppliers are going to have to find new sources for supply."

Bustillos is one of a dozen members of a multi-agency drug task force that spent hundreds of hours keeping the suspects under surveillance. Half a dozen agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency also assisted.

Last fall, Bustillos said, county authorities got a tip from a private citizen that "large-scale" methamphetamine sales might have been occurring and involving homes in Oxnard and Port Hueneme, and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County.

Late Tuesday afternoon, undercover detectives arrested Adrian Robert Garcia, 57, after pulling his car over on the Ventura Freeway, just north of Ventura.

Inside the car, authorities found 4 pounds of the methamphetamine. Officials said they suspect Garcia was driving to his home in Lompoc to make a large sale.

Late Tuesday evening, task force deputies simultaneously served search warrants at homes and storage facilities in Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme. The searches yielded a large amount of cash and drug paraphernalia.

In the 100 block of Stroube Street in Oxnard, deputies searched an apartment and arrested Raul Casteneda Marquez, 34, and Maria Dolores Martinez, 30. They also seized more than $10,000 in suspected drug profits.

Two young children found at the apartment were placed in the custody of their parents, who were not arrested, Bustillos said.

At a nearby storage locker in the 100 block of Gonzales Street in Oxnard, believed to have been rented by Marquez, deputies found about $80,000 in cash, wrapped in small cellophane bundles and neatly stacked.

The fourth suspect, 32-year-old Dora Eugenia Rodriguez, was arrested at her home in the 2500 block of Tiller Avenue in Port Hueneme. A storage locker in the 100 block of Orchard Drive in Ventura was also searched.

Three of the suspects remained jailed Wednesday night on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine, sales of methamphetamine and criminal conspiracy. Rodriguez was released on her own recognizance Wednesday night after making an afternoon court appearance, but is expected to face the same charges, authorities said.

Martinez and Garcia were being held in lieu of $50,000 bail each. Marquez's bail was set at $500,000 because authorities considered him a flight risk after finding identification with an alleged alias, Bustillos said.

Both Marquez and Garcia have been under investigation on and off for a couple of years in connection with drug sales, Bustillos said.

He said that the alleged drug ring had been operating for at least several months, but that authorities don't know where the group was buying its methamphetamine. No further arrests were pending.

"Some suspects were very hands-on and other were involved in the maintaining of the houses and other people were involved in picking up the narcotics," Bustillos said.

Authorities believe the suspects sold packages of methamphetamine in quantities that measured at least a pound.

In addition to drugs and cash, Bustillos said, authorities seized about 15 pounds of a horse vitamin that is used to cut methamphetamine, as well as packaging materials and mixing equipment.

The case marks the second major methamphetamine-related seizure in the county since March 24 when the same task force assisted Los Angeles police in raiding a hangar at Santa Paula Airport, where $5 million worth of methamphetamine oil and a lab were discovered.

That case, which had no relationship to the most recent seizure, involved the arrests of nine people, including a popular airplane mechanic who lived at the hangar and ran his airplane business from there.

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