The seizure of $22 million worth of Colombian marijuana and the arrests of 11 alleged drug smugglers broke a major Los Angeles Harbor-area drug ring, law enforcement officials said Thursday.
“We believe we have made a significant crimp in that organization’s activity,” Assistant Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert A. Edmonds said.
Authorities seized two boats Wednesday--including one boarded by Coast Guard personnel in a dramatic confrontation in 12-foot seas--used by the suspects and found in them explanatory logbooks and other information that may lead to future arrests, Edmonds said.
‘Some Kind of Impact’
Quintin Villanueva, regional commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, said the arrests and seizure were “obviously going to have some kind of impact” on marijuana availability in the Los Angeles area. Moreover, he said, he hoped it would send a signal to other drug smugglers that “there’s no more carte blanche.”
At a mid-morning press conference Thursday at U.S. Customs offices on Terminal Island, law enforcement officials released previously undisclosed details about the action, which began shortly after dawn Wednesday.
Villanueva said a multi-agency investigation of the alleged drug ring began 16 months ago after officials received “specific information” on its activities. About a month ago, surveillance of the group indicated that a major movement was in the offing and additional officers were deployed to keep tabs on the operation, he said.
Seen at Bait Barge
Early Wednesday, Villanueva said, the two boats were spotted tied up at a bait barge in Los Angeles Harbor. Officers watched as 415 burlap bags of marijuana were unloaded from the 68-foot fishing boat Ocean Joy onto the 65-foot Gary Lin, a converted Navy PT boat, he said.
The Gary Lin motored to Berth 200, where officers arrested Donald C. Brown, 34, of Lomita; Gregory O. Paine, 37, of Wilmington, and Richard Charles Maddox, 34, of Carson. Other officers arrested the barge attendant, Kenneth J. Severson, 44, of Long Beach and three men ashore--Louis E. Bunn, 50, of Wilmington, James E. Dalton, 41, of San Pedro and Jose O. Estrada, 48, of Tijuana.
Offshore, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Point Divide chased the Ocean Joy, catching up with it 75 miles southwest of Long Beach in the midst of heavy swells, according to Lt. Michael Parks, commanding officer of the Point Divide.
When those aboard the boat refused to surrender, Coast Guard officers fired a machine-gun barrage of seven shots across the vessel’s bow and then boarded it, Parks said. Those aboard had attempted to scuttle the boat by opening engine valves allowing seawater to enter, but Coast Guard and naval crews were able to keep it from sinking, Parks said.
Arrested on the Ocean Joy were its captain, Richard Nowell, 32, of San Diego, and crew members Brett Robert Sweezy, 19, Paul J. Nuotio, 48, and Steve F. Evans, 38, all of Hawaii.
All the suspects were being held in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Harbor Division Jail pending expected arraignment on various charges in federal court on Monday, Villanueva said.