The record seizure of 1,784 pounds of cocaine in Fullerton, Placentia and Anaheim over the weekend is an indication that Orange County has become a visible spot for major distribution of the drug, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
Mark H. Bonner, who in 1984 helped dismantle the largest cocaine-trafficking network on the West Coast, said Orange County's coke haul "has the underpinnings of a gigantic case. Where it's moving and shaking is Orange County, obviously."
In the weekend raids in the three cities, almost a ton of cocaine and three-quarters of a million dollars were recovered at five residences by Los Angeles Police Department and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
The huge cocaine seizures--with an estimated street value of $500 million--amounted to the biggest ever in California.
Ten of the suspects--eight Colombians, an Ecuadorian and a Venezuelan--are being held in the Orange County Jail on $4-million bail each. They are scheduled to appear today before a Municipal Court judge in Fullerton. An unidentified Colombian minor also was taken into custody.
The Colombians arrested were identified as Onelia Rita Arboleda, 24; Dimate Fabio Ardila, 41; Florinda Prad Suarez, 25; Uldarico Cabuya, 34; Elkin Guaren, 28; Gonzalo Ruiz, 29; Blas Sanchez Rodriquez, 43, and Maria Sanchez Pinzol, 24.
The Ecuadorian is Juan Perez Sanchez, 29; the Venezuelan is Clara Rubia Perez, 22.
Orange County Assistant Dist. Atty. Ronald Cafferty said the state will prosecute the case because the Los Angeles Police Department initiated the investigation and arrested the suspects.
Drug agents handling the case have not revealed the extent of their investigation nor how long they believe that the 11 suspects had operated in the county.
Affluent Orange County is a natural lure for major cocaine traffickers, Bonner said.
"There's money in Orange County. Cocaine is expensive, and the people down there are the ones who want it and can afford it," he said in a telephone interview from his office in Los Angeles.
Despite the large seizures over the weekend, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Ted Hunter, the agent in charge of the DEA's Los Angeles district, have estimated that only about 10% of the cocaine that comes into the area was removed from the streets. Some Orange County officials said Monday that cocaine trafficking continues to be a major problem.
"There's been a hell of an increase in the last year or so," said Sgt. Vince Howard of the Anaheim Police Department's narcotics division. "These seizures are making that quite evident.
"I think there's a lot more (cocaine) out there, but it's difficult to tell just how much," he added.
Officer Rudy Segura of the Placentia Police Department's drug detail said his department is emphasizing tighter surveillance of suspected drug dealers.
And Lt. Dick Olson, an Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said the increase in cocaine trafficking is a reflection of the problem all over the country.
"There's a big problem everywhere, not just in Orange County," Olson said. "But (these) seizures, I think, are indicative that there is that kind of (cocaine) traffic here."
Bonner, who in 1984 successfully prosecuted 26 defendants for dealing in cocaine in Huntington Beach, remembers when a four-kilogram case "was really big."
"And that was only back in 1978. It really shows you how much (cocaine trafficking) has grown," he said.
The 1984 case involved Alan Charles Mobley, who was reputed to have been involved in the sale of at least a ton of cocaine a year in Orange County during the height of his four-year operation. Mobley is now serving a 45-year sentence at a federal prison in Texas. An appeal of his case is scheduled for May 1, Bonner said.
Mobley is married to a Colombian and federal officials, during their one-year investigation into his group's activities, linked him with drug dealers in Miami and Colombia, including his father-in-law.
"The evidence was irrefutable," Bonner declared.
No Successful Prosecution
Mobley's father-in-law, Heriberto Machado Velasquez, allegedly ran a cocaine-smuggling operation out of Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city and the hub of the illicit drug trade in that country. But he was never successfully prosecuted.
Bonner said he saw similarities between the Mobley case and that ofthe 11 South Americans arrested in Orange County last weekend. Gates and Hunter said the cocaine seizure illustrated a move by Colombian drug dealers to do business in the Los Angeles area after years of mainly concentrating on Miami.
"There's a lot of truth to that," Bonner said. "Miami is saturated. Miami for a long time has been a whopping source for narcotics, especially cocaine. But they are doing more business here now."
Bonner also said that federal and state narcotics investigators should devote more time and money to cripple the large-scale cocaine dealers.
"This case illustrates where we should be going," he said. "We should take the offensive and put these people away. We can spend the rest of our lives busting the small operations, but the small seizures only cause reactive damage."