The seizure of 712 pounds of cocaine in Fountain Valley over the weekend reflects Southern California's status as a major distribution point, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials said Monday.
The cocaine, seized in a joint Los Angeles Police Department-DEA operation that resulted in the arrests of seven people Saturday evening, has an estimated street value of about $121.2 million and brings the total amount of cocaine seized by Los Angeles police in the first six weeks of 1987 to about 1,111 pounds. During the same period in 1986, only 478.5 pounds had been confiscated, although the year ended with a record of 6.5 tons seized, according to Officer Margie Reid.
"The prospects for 1987 already appear bleaker," said Los Angeles Police Officer Dennis Packer, who explained that the seizures reflect the growing amount of cocaine entering the Southland.
While Saturday's total is "a very large seizure," Reid said, it fell short of the California record of 1,784 pounds, worth an estimated $500 million, that were confiscated in Anaheim last April. About 2,000 pounds were seized in Orange County during 1986, according to Dick Canas of the DEA's Orange County office.
Canas said Saturday's arrests followed a familiar pattern in that none of the people arrested could prove citizenship and six are Colombian nationals. The pattern, he said, is for Colombians to come to Los Angeles for about a month and then move on when the cocaine is sold. He described the Colombian connection as "a little subculture they've set up" in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
"It's incredible. The figures, the money that's being moved through the Greater Los Angeles area is incredible," Canas said. And Orange County has about one third of the area's cocaine traffic, he said.
Canas said the DEA estimates that the amount confiscated only amounts to about 10% of the cocaine brought into the country. But, he said, he believes that figure rises as high as 30% in the Los Angeles area, where the DEA has a concentrated effort. "We're definitely hurting 'em with seizures like this," Canas said.
Saturday's seizure in Fountain Valley was the culmination of a two-week investigation by Los Angeles narcotics officers and the DEA, Reid said.
In addition to the drugs discovered in a house and a pickup truck, Los Angeles officers, assisted by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents and Fountain Valley police, seized $8,440 in cash. Reid said the $2.6 million in cash taken by officers so far in 1987 would put her department on a pace to beat another 1986 record, when about $29 million was confiscated, Reid said.
Six people were arrested at the corner of Magnolia Street and Warner Avenue, and the seventh was arrested at a residence in the 18600 block of Cottonwood Street, Reid said.
Although neither Reid nor Packer would provide details of the arrests, sources indicated that about 222 pounds were taken from the house and the rest from a late-model pickup truck parked at the street corner. The truck also was seized.
Arrested and booked in Los Angeles on suspicion of possession of cocaine for sale, Reid said, were Arturo Acuna, 30; Hernando Iglesias, 26; Elena Martinez, 47; Lopez Luiz Fernando Duque, 31; Francisco Jose Moran-Rodriquez, 38; Jorge Prada, 25, and an unidentified man in his late 20s, Reid said. All except Prada, a Mexican citizen, are Colombian nationals, she said.
No Weapons Found
The unidentified man was the only one arrested at the Cottonwood Street residence. Police said the suspects put up no resistance and no weapons were found.
Bail was set at $5 million each and arraignment was scheduled for today, Packer said.
Roger Guevara, public information officer for the DEA, noted that while Miami remains "a major funneling point" for cocaine, despite a concerted crackdown by law enforcement officials there, Southern California has emerged as a major distribution center.
"I don't know if we'd be prepared to say (Los Angeles) is the distribution capital, but it's certainly a major distribution point," Guevara said.
Saturday's bust, he said, is "only indicative of the major problem we have here."