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Gang sweep targets convicted criminals with ties to Mexican drug cartels

October 14, 2011 |  3:59 pm

Photo: California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
A gang sweep dubbed Operation Garlic Press has struck another blow to criminals in California with ties to Mexican drug cartels.

At a Friday news conference in the farming town of Gilroy, famed for its annual garlic festival, Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris announced the arrests of more than 100 previously convicted felons. The arrests involved the sale of drugs, firearms and stolen property.

"After noticing an increase in crime, Gilroy officials asked for help in dismantling a gang network that had set up shop in their town," Harris said in a statement. The arrests were made in  Alameda, Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

In June, in the neighboring Central Valley, agents staged a three-day sweep with helicopters and police dogs at more than 50 locations. Law enforcement said the prison gang Nuestra Familia, which controls most of the Norteno street gangs in Central California, had set up top leaders in small farming communities. From out-of-the-way towns, they were directing an elaborate network of drug and human smuggling and bringing violence  to formerly peaceful communities.

In the past, such  large-scale sweeps have sometimes pushed the criminal activity into neighboring areas.

However, the latest take-down, from the western edge of the Central Valley to the coast, predates the first sweep. Harris said the operation has been going on for 18 months. Undercover agents purchased drugs, gun and stolen vehicles. The suspects were arrested on state and federal charges.


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--Diana Marcum

Photo: California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times