Trial Starts Today for 4 Arrested in Irvine Cocaine Bust
Four men arrested last summer in Irvine for allegedly operating a Miami-based cocaine distribution ring are scheduled to go on trial today in Los Angeles federal court. A fifth man, arrested in Hacienda Heights, will be tried at the same time.
At the time, the case, which involved the seizure of 121 pounds of cocaine, was one of Orange County’s largest drug seizures. In recent months, however, more than a ton of cocaine has been seized, according to Orange County law enforcement officials.
“All the heat in Miami has forced people to move elsewhere,” said Benny Rincon, president of the Orange County Narcotic Officers Assn. and an agent for the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement.
Rincon, one of the undercover agents who made the arrests at a hotel in Irvine, said the local cocaine supply has increased dramatically because “Orange County has a lot of money and people want cocaine.”
Indicted Sept. 4
The five men due to stand trial today were indicted by a Los Angeles federal grand jury on Sept. 4 for conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and crossing state lines to facilitate narcotics trafficking.
They are Richard Allan Jarvis, 42, of Miami; Antonio Ortega Torres, 45, of Miami; Francisco Jose Vieira, 30, of Tampa, Fla.; Jorge Luis Soto-Ocacio, 25, of Hacienda Heights, and Bladimiro Ignacio Renteria, 36, of Tarzana.
All five have pleaded not guilty.
Torres, Vieira, Soto-Ocacio and Renteria went to trial last November, but U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi declared a mistrial after a group of jurors saw the defendants leaving the courtroom in shackles and chains.
The group allegedly operated what Brea police believe to be a major cocaine distribution ring. An informant’s tip prompted a four-month undercover investigation that eventually led to a group of agents agreeing to tentatively purchase more than 110 pounds for about $2 million.
Meeting in Las Vegas
To complete negotiations for the deal, the agents met Jarvis, the alleged ringleader, at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas on Aug. 8, 1985, according to the indictment.
At that meeting, Jarvis allegedly arranged to sell the agents 27.5 pounds of cocaine. On Aug. 22, the agents met with Jarvis again, this time at the Irvine Marriott Hotel, the indictment said.
Jarvis, who had driven from Los Angeles to Irvine in a rented Jaguar, was arrested after selling about 11 pounds of cocaine to the agents on Aug. 24, according to the indictment. Renteria, Vieira and Torres were arrested in the hotel lobby. Later that night, police arrested another three men as they left an apartment on Colima Road in Hacienda Heights. Two of the men were later released. Agents seized an additional 108 pounds of cocaine at the Hacienda Heights apartment, according to the indictment.
Attorneys for Jarvis, who was not present at the November trial, argued that his trial should proceed separately because the jurors did not see him in chains. Takasugi denied the request, saying he wanted all five defendants to be tried together. Appeals filed by Jarvis’ attorneys delayed the trial an additional six months.
Jarvis had been free on bail, but he was taken into custody in Florida last month after traces of cocaine were detected in his urine, according to federal court records.
Attorney Anxious for Trial
Alan Baum, an attorney representing Torres, said he is anxious for the trial to begin because his client has been in custody at Terminal Island federal prison for nine months. He said that although Torres was present at the hotel when the agents took delivery of the five kilograms, the government must prove what role, if any, Torres played in the transaction.
Baum said that he and other defense attorneys are handling more and more Orange County cocaine cases because “things are getting tougher in Miami.”
He said that Florida’s 15-year minimum mandatory sentence for cocaine distribution has had an impact on the drug trade there.