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17 are arrested in Santa Barbara-based drug probe

November 12, 2009 |  4:32 pm

An investigation that started with the search for a dead man's body in an illegal marijuana garden near Santa Barbara has, after six months, resulted in the arrests of 17 people on drug charges, authorities said.

The missing man, Jesus Omar Villa of Fresno, is presumed dead, although authorities have yet to find his body.

During the investigation, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies learned that several suspects had planned to destroy evidence of Villa’s death by setting a brushfire at the marijuana garden he allegedly tended in the Santa Barbara foothills. That fire was never set, however, and cadaver-sniffing dogs failed to find Villa’s body at the Los Padres National Forest site off West Camino Cielo Road.

The arrests were made in several counties, beginning in September. In one raid in Glendale, a 15-year-old boy allegedly rammed his vehicle into several police cars.

In all, authorities confiscated more than two pounds of cocaine, 327 pounds of marijuana, 11 guns and $39,000 in cash.

All of those arrested were described as Mexican nationals. Their U.S. citizenship status remains unclear, according to Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department spokesman Drew Sugars.

—Steve Chawkins