A gang sweep dubbed Operation Garlic Press this week struck another blow at an intricate crime network that stretches along Interstate 5 and small-town back roads from the Mexican border to the Bay Area.
At a Friday news conference in the farming community of Gilroy, known for its annual garlic festival, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris announced that agents had made more than 100 arrests after an 18-month operation.
This sweep — which covered Alameda, Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties — comes on the heels of a Central Valley sweep in June in which authorities said they arrested high-ranking gang leaders living in tiny farm towns, directing a web of human, gun and drug trafficking.
The Nuestra Familia prison gang, with direct links to Mexican drug cartels, directs most of the Norteno street gangs. The gangs had set up shop in towns such as Dos Palos and Los Banos after being largely driven out of Salinas in earlier sweeps.
"What is clear is they're moving straight up and down California, crossing jurisdictions," Harris said. "We'll cross jurisdictions too. We're going to take them out wherever they are."
Harris said her priority is backing up local law enforcement agencies.
"We have small cities with big problems," she said.
Michelle Gregory, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Justice, said there had been an increase in violence in the five-county area targeted in this week's sweep.
"The Central Valley sweep was targeting hierarchy," she said. "This was more — I don't want to say bottom of the barrel — but this was local crime reaching a point where the local agencies said, 'We need help.' And that's also why we're here."
Agents went undercover and spent 18 months tracking drugs, guns and stolen goods.
Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro said he hoped people didn't get the idea that Gilroy was overrun with gang members.
"A small amount of the people arrested actually lived in Gilroy," he said. "But that's partly the point. These people move around. We have to team up and work together to stop them."