55 charged in meth, heroin, firearm crackdown in California

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |   Updated March 2, 2017 at 9:08 AM

March 2 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice charged 55 people with crimes ranging money laundering to trafficking heroin, methamphetamine and firearms in California.

The people charged, including known drug dealers and gang members, are accused of supplying a "substantial portion" of the heroin and methamphetamine distributed in North County, Calif., the Justice Department said.

Forty-six of the 55 charged are in either federal or state custody. Authorities arrested 14 on Wednesday, while the rest were arrested either earlier in the week or were already in custody. Officials are still searching for seven people who face charges, two of whom are in Mexico, including the alleged ringleader.

Officials said the arrests on Wednesday amount to "one of the most significant crackdowns in recent memory." Charges range from drug distribution, firearms trafficking, robberies, vehicle thefts, burglaries and assaults.

In the crackdown, authorities seized heroin, methamphetamine and 25 firearms, including handguns, revolvers and assault rifles, the Justice Department said.

"Today we've taken out one of North County's largest heroin suppliers," Acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson said in a statement. "This crackdown is our most significant response to date to the heroin epidemic ravaging our communities. We anticipate seeing a huge impact now that these defendants are removed from our community, particularly in the North County cities of Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos and other areas plagued by gangs."

The trafficking organization was allegedly led by Yadira "Pini" Villalvazo, a Mexico-based woman linked to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel who used dozens of street gang members to distribute heroin, the Justice Department said.

"This drug trafficking organization supplied at least 25 percent of the heroin sold and consumed in North County and grossed tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds that were sent back to Mexico," the Justice Department added.

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