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Subject: Marijuana bust in Merced, California is connected with illegal Mexican Mafia plantations in Siskiyou forests at the top of the state.
The Pioneer Press, at the very top of the State of California, grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California
Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Vol. 33, No. 1 
Page A1, column 2

Siskiyou pot bust in Merced

-- More than 50 suspects were arrested as Feds follow local marijuana distributed throughout the West.

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

ETNA, CALIFORNIA – During his first Power Point presentation about law enforcement raids on illegal marijuana gardens, Siskiyou County Sheriff Rick Riggins verified that pot grown in Siskiyou forests has been connected with arrests made in Sacramento and now in four other Southern California counties.

"The Mexican Mafia are a well-organized crime group," said Sheriff Riggings and no one would have dreamed that they would be growing a 2,000-plant plantation just three miles outside of this mountain town.

Etna’s population is only 750.

Most residents know each other and even Mayor Christopher Liles said he had not spotted strange Mexicans in town. And Etna Police Chief, Josh Short, said the garden had been there for at least several years.

Mexican plantation found three miles form Etna.

Sheriff Riggins explained during the Etna Neighborhood Watch meeting, held Nov. 9, that there are "dozens" of Mexican families involved and they are the "number one distributor of pot and meth in the State of California."

There are more than two Mexican Mafia families that have been growing illegal marijuana in Siskiyou County. The 10 plantations taken this year by law enforcement were all grown by the Mexican Mafia, said Riggins. He explained that each family sets their gardens up the same way, purchases the same tools and even food. Journals and notebooks with Mexican writing and Mexican Mafia symbols were also found.

Sheriff Riggins hauls in $100 million of pot in Siskiyou alone.

The 25,152 illegal pot plants confiscated by the sheriff’s department and Forest Service law enforcement in Siskiyou County this year, were worth more than $100 million. Each mature plant produces more than one pound of dope and each pound is worth a minimum of $4,000 on the street.

Sheriff Riggins said, "You do the math." So the Pioneer Press did.

Then on Nov. 3, law enforcement agents busted an alleged drug-trafficking organization in Merced and Fresno Counties. Others were arrested in Riverside County.

The sheriff explained that more than 50 individuals were arrested. Most of the arrests were made in a barn just four miles outside of Merced city limits, where marijuana was being dried and processed. Officers said the 40 "worker bees" were apparently living the barn as well.

More than 3,600 pounds was found along with nine pounds of cocaine and two pounds of crystal meth. While the street value of the meth is lower, the pot was worth $11 million and cocaine was worth $150,000.

The barn was located on the 4000 block of Lingard Road, just off Highway 99.

Guns were also found during the arrests, including an AR-15 assault rifle, an Uzi machine pistol, shotgun, semiautomatic handguns and revolvers. Also found were 50 fighting roosters and a pit bull dog that was killed, when he attacked a police dog.

Polido is Mafia leader suspect.

A second suspected leader of a Mexican Mafia family was arrested in the busts on Nov. 3. Alleged as the ringleader is Estanislao Pulido, age 40. He and his wife, Citali, age 30, were arrested and arraigned along with 50 other defendants on Nov. 5 in federal court.

The busts were part of an operation in which 16 federal search warrants and 12 federal arrest warrants were served in Fresno, Merced and Riverside Counties, according to a news article in The Fresno Bee, written by Jerry Bier.

Many suspects who were arrested were illegal immigrants. Pulido reportedly has legal status in the United States.

Sheriff Riggins said they knew back in June about the Pulido group here in Siskiyou County, but he was asked by state and federal narcotics law enforcement to wait before doing raids. Surveillance was expanded and infiltration into the crime groups was established. They wanted arrests, not just plantations raided.

According to The Fresno Bee article, an affidavit was unsealed on Nov. 5, which explained the two-and-a-half-year investigation of Pulido, by federal and state agencies. The officials had learned that Pulido and others were in the business of cultivating domestic marijuana in the mountains of California and were also importing marijuana and cocaine from Mexico.

Agents connect Pulido with Siskiyou plantations.

In the affidavit, it explains that agents had observed Pulido or his wife renting vehicles to drive to marijuana gardens in the mountain. They were also observed purchasing groceries and camping equipment for those who tend the mountain pot gardens, according to John Hoover, a special agent with the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement.

According to Dave Dresson, a special agent for the state Department of Justice, Pulido’s organization was the major supplier of cocaine to a Merced gang. A sweep several weeks ago, netted 17 arrests of alleged members of that gang called the Merced Gangster Crips.

Sheriff recalls first arrest of alleged Mafia leader

During the Etna Neighborhood Watch meeting, Sheriff Riggins and Capt. Mike Murphy, explained how Rafael Lua was captured, when the narcotics officers raided his plantation in September. Deputy Bear Tharsing was credited with chasing Lua for more than an hour in the steep terrain in Middle Creek above the Scott River.

What Lua did not expect was a second helicopter that was able to swing around ahead of Lua and drop down another law enforcement officer, Darrel Lemos, who helped make the capture.

A federal warrant had been issued for Lua, so when he was caught, it was easy to expedite the arrest.

When asked why Lua was with the men harvesting the marijuana, Capt. Murphy said he was just plain "greedy and was ordering the men to continue harvesting."

"It’s exciting for me," said the sheriff, who trained hard this year with his officers. Riggins dropped 20 pounds, so he could participate in the raids and busts. At the time, his department was also down 14 officers and so he was short-handed.

"We’ve learned a lot this year," the sheriff added and he expects next year to be even better.





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