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.