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Caches of drugs, weapons found at day-care facility

Raid uncovers 14 kilos of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana stashed next to kids' toys, police say.

September 27, 2007|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A Boyle Heights day-care facility also housed a large cache of drugs, weapons and money, Los Angeles police said Wednesday.

LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon said officers raided the duplex in the 800 block of Esperanza Street about 11 p.m. Tuesday and found 14 kilos of cocaine, 50 pounds of marijuana, a stash of firearms and $300,000 cash.

"We found more in the house than we expected. Once inside we found the city permit for a day-care facility posted on the wall," said Vernon.

"In the same place as cellophane-wrapped cocaine and marijuana and a loaded assault rifle and three handguns, we found children's toys," Vernon said.

Maria Castellon, 47, the duplex owner, was arrested early Wednesday on suspicion of felony cocaine possession for sale. She is being held in lieu of $2.03-million bail.

Vernon said Castellon was in the half of the duplex where all the narcotics and guns were stored along with some of the cash. More bundles of cash were found in the other half of the duplex, where two children under 5 were sleeping and another woman lived, he said.

"We believe this is a significant source for drug sales in and around skid row," Vernon said. "The persons involved here do not appear to be related to gangs, but they have a big operation that was intended for an open market."

Vernon said much of the drugs brought into skid row come from surrounding areas, where they are stored by dealers. The skid row area in downtown, known for its homeless and addicted population, accounts for a fifth of all narcotics arrests in Los Angeles.

Police estimate that the cocaine seized on Esperanza is worth at least $252,000 on the street, while the marijuana is valued at about $20,000.

The narcotics, neatly wrapped in parcels, were found inside suitcases, a safe and a sports bag. Vernon said an LAPD dog trained to detect drugs found the stashes.

"The stacks of cash were found in shoe boxes," Vernon said. A set of scales and a money counting machine were also recovered by detectives as they searched the duplex, he said.

In a fenced yard, a small scooter and child's play set were clearly visible. Graffiti was visible on a nearby lamppost and the curb.

Castellon, according to public records, has owned the 1,700-square-foot duplex since at least 2001.

According to state Community Care Licensing officials, Castellon did have licenses to operate a family day-care facility at two prior locations but they could find no record of a license for the Esperanza address. Vernon said the permit on the wall was a city business permit.

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