Drug trafficking ring busted by Ventura County-led task force

Multi-agency effort nabs heroin and methamphetamine probably intended for users in L.A. region.

By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 4, 2008

A two-year investigation netted one of the state’s largest heroin seizures and disrupted a sophisticated, mid-level distribution network operating in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, officials with a Ventura County drug task force announced Thursday.

Working with multiple agencies, Ventura County drug agents in late February captured more than 131 pounds of black tar heroin at a home in Downey, said Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks. Based on its purity, the heroin could have resulted in more than 1 million doses on the street, with a value approaching at least $10 million, Brooks said.

Investigators also found 28 pounds of methamphetamine with a street value of up to $3.5 million, and $215,000 in cash, he said.

Two men from Downey and a man living in Oxnard were arrested and charged with multiple drug violations, said Ventura County Dist. Atty. Gregory Totten.

They were being held in Ventura County jail and will be prosecuted by the Ventura district attorney’s office.

Enforcement agents believe much of the heroin was headed for L.A. markets but that it could have been distributed across Southern California. Totten and Brooks praised the work of the task force in interrupting the drug flow, at least for next several months.

“Drug runners are sophisticated,” Totten said. “The only way to combat them is to work together. There’s the old saying that there’s strength in unity — and that’s true.”

The Ventura County Combined Agency Team comprises officers from the Sheriff’s Department, Oxnard Police, the Ventura County district attorney’s office and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Other law enforcement agencies and state and federal agents were brought in as needed, Totten said.

Julio Ramirez, 47, and his son, Julio junior, 21, were arrested Feb. 26 in Downey. The elder Ramirez could face up to 44 years in prison. His son has already pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell drugs and could face seven years in prison when he is sentenced, Totten said.

Salvador Valencia Alvarez, 33, was taken into custody the same day in Oxnard, Totten said. If convicted, he could face 44 years in prison.

Two smaller drug busts were also announced. In December, working with Los Angeles authorities, the task force seized about $58,000 worth of designer “club” drugs from a Hollywood location and arrested Marc Alan Weingarten, 34, of Hollywood, officials said. Along with bottles of GHB, known as a “date rape” drug, officers found bags of Ecstasy, illegal prescription drugs and more than $350,000 in cash.

Weingarten was charged on multiple counts and was awaiting trial in Ventura County, Totten said.

A third bust took place on Feb. 1 in Ventura and Oxnard and netted 28 pounds of methamphetamine along with powder and rock cocaine with a combined estimated street value of $1 million, authorities said. Agents also seized $182,690 in cash.

A long table at the news conference was piled with bricks of plastic-wrapped heroin and bags of white powdery substances the agents identified as methamphetamine and cocaine. Handguns, an AK-47 semiautomatic gun and a plethora of prescription tablets rounded out the tableau.

Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Derek West said the task force had broken up the bottom and middle rungs of extensive drug distribution networks that peddle heroin probably brought from Mexico. The heroin is believed to be up to 70% pure, meaning it could have been cut several times before being sold, he said.

Although methamphetamine remains Ventura County’s No. 1 drug problem, marijuana is also popular, and heroin sales have been picking up noticeably in the county’s Thousand Oaks area, West said.

The February bust was among the largest heroin seizures in California in recent decades. A year ago, agents in Anaheim seized 121 pounds of brown heroin from Mexico. In 1990, a 140-pound cache of heroin was captured in a container ship in Long Beach Harbor. A year later, more than 1,000 pounds were seized in the Bay Area.

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