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Tri-City Men Among 32 Indicted in East Bay Drug Trafficking Operation

A Fremont man and Union City man were arrested in connection to an East Bay marijuana grow operation in which $1 million worth of marijuana, dozens of firearms and $400,000 was seized.

By Bay City News Service

A federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment last week charging 32 people associated with an East Bay drug trafficking ring with conspiracy to grow marijuana, U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced Wednesday.

The more than two dozen people arrested in connection with the operation were scheduled to appear for arraignment Wednesday in Sacramento Federal Court, although six of those indicted had yet to be arrested as of Wednesday afternoon.

If convicted, the defendants could face the statutory penalty of 10 years to life in prison.

After opening an investigation into the marijuana grow operation early last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration arrested 26 people associated with the activities on May 16 and 17 and sought to arrest 6 others.

Law enforcement agents seized more than $1 million worth of marijuana -- including thousands of marijuana plants from at least 14 indoor grow operations and dozens of pounds of processed cannabis -- as well as dozens of firearms and at least $400,000, officials said earlier this month.

Those implicated are between the ages of 20 and 57 from Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno and Stanislaus counties in what the DEA dubbed "Operation Disco Dazed."

DEA agents investigated a hydroponic equipment retailer operating in Tracy and Hayward, Grower's Choice Hydroponics.

According to the DEA, the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint states Steven Ortega Sr., 50, and Marla Ortega, 57, both of Byron, own both retail stores.

Agents determined that Steven Ortega Sr. and his 25-year-old son, Steven Ortega Jr., of Discovery Bay, allegedly directed a drug trafficking organization that used the stores to provide growing equipment to partners in exchange for a cut of profits from the marijuana sold.

"The use of legitimate businesses to facilitate marijuana cultivation and launder the proceeds of trafficking is a classic feature of such organizations," Wagner said in a statement today.

Also charged in the indictment were:

  • Richard Serrell, 44, of Antioch;
  • Marcus Williams, 28, of Hayward;
  • Kevin Kuester, 43, of Fremont;
  • Steven Adgate, 30, of Rio Vista;
  • Jake Westerman, 22, of Livermore;
  • Nickolas Perry, 23, Joey Figlia, 23, and Kevin Kirkpatrick, 27, of Discovery Bay;
  • Reginald Bell, 38, of Union City;
  • Dusty Burge, 39, Matt Ortega, 21, Jay Dupee, 50, and Bryan Swiers, 31, all of Byron;
  • Anthony Giarrusso, 24, Brock Enrico, 25, and Kyle Schmidt, 25, all of Oakley;
  • Todd Becerra, 38, and Joseph Mirante, 40, of Tracy;
  • Charles Erickson, 36, and Travis Olibas, 23, of Fresno;
  • Richard Reynolds, 34, of Modesto;
  • Justin McMillian, 32, of Salida;
  • Shawn Thompson, 43, of Mountain House;
  • Frederick Laurens, 29, and Michael Kelley, 20, of Brentwood;
  • and Derek Winters, 30, Robert Kennedy, 25, Nicholas Ojeda, 32, and Jason Siegfried, 28, of Patterson.

Burge, Erickson, Figlia, Kennedy, Ojeda and Perry have bench warrants for their arrest, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

malcolm kyle May 31, 2012 at 12:20 PM
If you sincerely believe that prohibition is a dangerous and counter-productive policy then you must stop helping to enforce it. When it comes to acquittals, you, the juror, have the very last word! * It only takes one juror to prevent a guilty verdict. * You are not lawfully required to disclose your voting intention before taking your seat on a jury. * You are also not required to give a reason to the other jurors on your position when voting - simply state that you find the accused not guilty. * Jurors must understand that it is their opinion, their vote. If the Judge and the other jurors disapprove, too bad. There is no punishment for having a dissenting opinion. We must create what we can no longer afford to wait for - PLEASE VOTE TO ACQUIT!
Brash Brazen May 31, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Jury Nullification -Jurors can't be punished for the verdicts they render. Jurors can refuse to convict despite the evidence & the fact that the defendant did what was alleged in the charges against them. During Prohibition while Eliot Ness was busting up breweries & speakeasies juries refused to convict 50% of those arrested. This de facto repeal made the law virtually unenforceable in many areas of the country & helped to speed the end of Prohibition. Ironically marijuana was still legal under federal law during Prohibition as the Marijuana Tax Act didn't become law until 1937. Upon repeal former supporter John D. Rockefeller Jr. wrote "When Prohibition was introduced,I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion & the day would soon come where the evils of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly & reluctantly come to believe that has not been the result. Instead,drinking has increased;the speakeasy has replaced the saloon;a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared;many of our best citizens have ignored Prohibition;respect for the law has been greatly lessened;& crime has increased to a level never seen before". As they say history repeats itself & contrary to the governments decades of propaganda marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol. Now with a majority of Americans favoring legalization it's time to elect those willing to change the laws regarding marijuana & rein in those in law enforcement who disagree. Tax & Regulate Yes ! Arrest & Convict No !
John Everymann June 07, 2012 at 05:00 PM
In the liberal state of California, The majority of local law enforcement, Senators, And congressmen have no problem with marijuana being grown, Sold, or used. Its just when grows are busted by the feds in suburban neighborhoods, with very low crime rates, And the feds find dozens of guns. These white boys were living in the suburbs, Meanwhile packing assault rifles. The feds found 36 guns? Including a grenade launcher? That`s why Cali senators and congressmen have trouble standing up for growers busted by the feds. Most Cali congressmen and senators are against marijuana prohibition, But at the same time they`re anti 2nd amendment. If growers would just cool it on the firearms, Prohibition might end a lot sooner.

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